A living donor transplant is a life-saving option for the thousands of people waiting for a liver or kidney transplant. However, if the idea of asking someone to be your living donor is too nerve-wracking to consider, you need a Champion.
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What to Look For in a Living Donor Champion
“The Champion is a person who takes responsibility for finding a living donor for the recipient. The Champion can use multiple tools while searching for a donor for their loved one or friend,” explains Swaytha Ganesh, MD, medical director of UPMC’s Living Donor Program.
When identifying your Champion, look for someone with certain qualities needed to take on this task, including:
To find a living donor, your Champion needs to share your story far and wide. When you’re identifying a Champion, think of people in your life who have no trouble starting conversations with strangers and reaching out to people they don’t necessarily know well.
“We went out there and asked anyone with an unselfish desire to save a life: ‘Please help us, please contact us,’” says Grace Battles, who was the Champion for her husband Doug.
Your Champion probably won’t be approaching people on the street to share your story. But Champions who are comfortable putting themselves out there may have an easier time discussing a topic as serious and important as a living donation.
Your Champion will need to be honest about your situation. People may not fully understand what is going on or how important it is that you find a living donor. If your Champion can convey the seriousness of the situation, potential donors may be more willing to step up.
Living donation is a major surgery and there are risks associated with being a living donor. The transplant team will do everything possible to minimize those risks. Your Champion should be comfortable talking about how the transplant team will help donors. “We do multiple medical tests and scans to make sure donors are in the healthiest possible state to donate and to minimize the risk much as possible,” explains Abhinav Humar, MD, chief of transplantation, UPMC.
But being honest isn’t just about explaining the negatives. Your Champion should also explain what a huge impact a living donor can have on another person’s life. Many living donors report that donating was one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives.
A Willingness to Learn
Many people are unfamiliar with transplantation, and most likely your Champion will be too. Since potential donors will ask questions about the procedure, it’s important for Champions to learn how a living donor transplant works.
It’s also important for your Champion to know the best ways to find a donor. You and your Champion can attend a Champion workshop to learn more about living donation and how to identify suitable living donors.
“What changed her mind was the program at UPMC,” says living-liver donor Erica Drew on how the Champion program helped her mom come to terms with Erica donating to her dad. “They held a living donor workshop last summer that educated her more on being a living donor. She just didn’t know much about it.”
Being a Champion isn’t always easy. It may involve hours spent identifying potential donors only to learn none are suitable matches — or struggling to find any potential donors. Staying positive and never giving up is extremely important because you are relying on them. “I was getting very nervous as the Champion, because I didn’t know what I would do if I couldn’t find a donor,” says Champion Pam St. Clair, just before she found a living-liver donor for her husband, Joe.
It’s okay for Champions to get discouraged, as it can be a difficult process. Make sure your Champion knows it’s okay to take a break to reflect on why they are doing this. Open and honest communication with you is important so both of you can remain hopeful even when times are tough.
The most important thing is for your Champion to be ready and willing to take on this task. As long as that person is dedicated to finding you a living donor, your Champion will be perfect for you.
To learn more about the Champion’s role, visit UPMC.com/LivingDonorChampion.
If you have already identified a Champion, encourage them to visit Facebook.com/LivingDonorTransplant to join the Champion Support Group.
About Transplant Services
For more than four decades, UPMC Transplant Services has been a leader in organ transplantation. Our clinicians have performed more than 20,000 organ transplant procedures, making UPMC one of the foremost organ transplant centers in the world. We are home to some of the world’s foremost transplant experts and take on some of the most challenging cases. Through research, we have developed new therapies that provide our patients better outcomes — so organ recipients can enjoy better health with fewer restrictions. Above all, we are committed to providing compassionate, complete care that can change – and save – our patients’ lives. Visit our website to find a provider near you.