Advocating for a Family Member

By Karol Franks

Advocating for a Family Member

When our daughter Jenna was diagnosed with kidney disease, it was a huge shock to our family. The doctor said, “In 1 to 5 years, she will need dialysis or transplant.” That was the worst news ever. She was 15 years old and in (what we thought) good health, besides having what they called a “non-neurogenic, neurogenic bladder.”

After the initial angst and mourning, I got busy trying to find answers and solutions to help her. We took her to numerous appointments the month following her diagnosis. We had her examined by 3 different urologists, 2 nephrologists, 2 neurologists, and all the information came back the same. She was facing a life-long illness with no cure.

I began to research on the internet. It took a while to find help, but when I came across message forums with other patients and caregivers sharing their experiences, it was great support. So many people had been down this path before, and their knowledge was invaluable. Good sites are and

When it came time to begin dialysis, Jenna was a senior in high school and very sick. Life inside a dialysis unit was a foreign and frightening experience. Even though we had tried to prepare for it, I don’t think we really knew what to expect. We were fortunate to live close to a well-regarded unit and she got good care. But we had to stay on top of what was going on, always reviewing her lab slips, double checking her dry weight so they would not remove too much fluid, asking questions and again, getting help from other patients.

Jenna was evaluated and accepted on the waitlist for a kidney. Sadly, there are thousands of other people waiting as well. The wait time in our area was 5 to 7 years at the time, with the list growing every day. During her three years on dialysis, Jenna had about nine people offer to donate a kidney, but for various reasons they were found to be unsuitable donors. I had hoped I could donate a kidney to Jenna, but sadly was the wrong blood type. We changed transplant centers because the local one did not accept strangers as donors. We began to look for an altruistic donor willing to give a kidney to Jenna.

We went through a roller coaster of feelings with each donor who turned out to be unsuitable. And each time I would think “What if no one else comes forward?” But then I would hear from another kind soul. It really gives you faith in mankind when strangers offer to help. You want your transplant team to be thorough in their evaluation of a potential donor. Protecting the donor while giving the recipient a new start is the goal!

Jenna is now two years post-transplant and doing great. Her donor is also healthy and back to her normal activities. There is a lot of support and hope, whether you’re the patient, caregiver, family member, or friend. The whole process can be daunting, but it’s worth it.

To find a living donor, here is what worked for us:

  1. Set up a FREE Caring Bridge site and post your story and some photos and start your journal.
  2. Let your story be known. Email all your friends, relatives, co-workers, alumni association, fraternity/sorority, neighbors, and church that you have the Caringbridge site and ask that they get the message out that you’re hoping to find a kidney donor.
  3. Be sure to check to see if your hospital will accept an altruistic donor, not all hospitals do. If yours does, go to the Living Donors Online website and read the section for transplant recipients about searching for a kidney. You can also post a “Looking for” message on the forum. NOTE: set up a separate free email account specifically for responses so you will not get spammed or give out your primary email address. It is illegal to buy organs. Use common sense when dealing with strangers on the internet.
  4. Post a plea for a donor on the Matching Donors website. There is a fee, but it will be adjusted or waived for those people who cannot afford it.
  5. If you have a friend or family member who is willing to donate but is the wrong blood type, you could possibly arrange a swap through John Hopkins Hospital.
  6. If you are the patient and are too sick or overwhelmed to explore options, or don’t have access to a computer, ask someone to help do this for you.

Advocating for a Family Member - Karol FranksAbout the Author
Karol Franks lives in Southern California. She is married and a mother of 4. Her 24 year old daughter received a kidney from an altruistic donor in Jan. 2007, and as a result Karol became an advocate for patients and living donors. She serves as an administrator for Living Donors Online – an online community for living organ donors, potential donors, their families, and medical professionals. She also volunteers as an administrator for, a patient support forum for patients and their families as they cope with living with kidney disease.
Article uploaded 1-7-2009

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