Local living kidney donor, experts discuss life-saving way to ‘help someone else catch a break' | St. Louis Public Radio

Local living kidney donor, experts discuss life-saving way to ‘help someone else catch a break'

Jul 25, 2018

Back in January of this year, St. Louis-area resident Jane Beckman came across a newspaper article about a man in need of a new kidney – and another man who came to his aid.

“I could do that,” Beckman thought to herself. And soon, she did. At the end of May 2018, she donated her left kidney “to a complete stranger.”

Kidney recipient Jack Martin (at left) and donor Jane Beckman posed for a photo following their operations.
Credit Cody Wooley

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed how living organ donors, along with those who care for both donors and recipients, are changing and saving lives.

Joining him for the conversation were Beckman and two additional guests: Dr. Krista Lentine, who is a professor of internal medicine at Saint Louis University, a SLUCare nephrologist and the medical director of living kidney donation at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital; and Cody Wooley, transplant coordinator at the hospital.

“There’s a huge gap between how many people need kidneys and how many are available,” Wooley noted. “Living donors serve to bridge that gap.”

Lentine added that roughly 100,000 people in the U.S. are currently on the waiting list for a kidney transplant – including about 1,000 in the St. Louis area. And when kidneys fail, a transplant is far superior to dialysis.

“And among transplant options, living donor transplant is the best,” she said. “It can offer the fastest time to transplant, even bypassing the need for waiting or shortening the time on dialysis, and importantly, organs from living donors tend to work better.”

Five-year patient survival, after a living-donor transplant, is 85 percent, compared to 75 percent after deceased donor transplant and only 40 percent on dialysis,” Lentine added.

Because donors must undergo a surgical procedure, kidney donation is not entirely risk free. But that didn’t stop Beckman from completing the process earlier this year.

Dr. Chintalapati Varma (at right) is “the greatest kidney surgeon in the world” in the opinion of one of his recent patients, Jane Beckman (center).
Credit Courtesy of Jane Beckman

  “It’s like a lot of things,” she said. “If you focus on the side effects or possible repercussions, you would never take an Aspirin.”

In her own case, after the initial idea struck her, the timing just felt right.

“I’m in a great place in my life where I’m old enough that I felt the odds of me needing the other kidney are probably low,” said Beckman, 58, “[and] I’m young enough that I thought there are probably still a few more good miles on the ol’ girl and somebody would need it more than I would.”

But the main reason she decided to take the leap, she added, is that she feels she’s “just been so lucky in a million different ways.”

“Got a great husband, 31 years, [and a] fabulous job at the Crisis Nursery where our CEO, Dianne Miller, is all about caring and giving and taking care of other people,” she explained. “But mostly I’ve been lucky in my health.”

She added that “there’s a lot of things where people take care of themselves and they just have bad luck or sick kids.”

“And I thought, ‘If I can help someone else catch a break – I’ve caught a lot of breaks, maybe somebody else needs a break.’ So I picked up the phone.”

She was immediately connected with Wooley, who accompanied her every step of the way through the several-months-long process.

More resources related to living organ donation are available on the National Living Donor Assistance Center website and at slutransplant.com.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Caitlin Lally give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.