International Women’s Day…and Kidneys, of course

March 8 is International Women’s Day, so it seems fitting to continue our theme of women and kidneys (two of my favorite subjects). In my last post, I pointed out that neither gets the respect and attention they/we deserve. It’s mostly because most people just don’t know a whole lot about what they do: in the case of women, we hold up half the sky, as the African proverb says. And kidneys do much the same for the body, quietly keeping it functioning as it should, balancing nutrients, eliminating dangerous toxins, regulating fluids and salt content, promoting bone health. I could go on.

Now how do I tie this back to women, you ask? Let’s consider living kidney donors. Not surprisingly, most are women. When I participated in setting the Guinness World Record for largest gathering of living donors last April, it was clear that the vast majority of us donors there were women. Now, it’s tempting to say that’s all due to our natural empathy and nurturing instincts. I do believe that’s partly responsible, but I know it’s more complicated than that. (For one thing, in the case of the Guinness event in Chicago, many of us needed to be able to afford a trip halfway across the country.) More important, donating a kidney, like any major surgery, usually entails taking off work for at least a couple of weeks, if you have a sedentary job as I did (editor/writer). If you’re a laborer, however, because of a restriction on lifting anything over 10 pounds for about the first 6 weeks after surgery, that obviously could mean a lot longer interruption.

Donors who are lucky enough to have sufficient paid sick leave (or any at all) don’t have to worry about lost pay. But for anyone who doesn’t, that’s a major disincentive to be a live donor. The reality is that, in a lot of families, it’s still harder to get by without the man’s earnings. The National Living Donor Assistance Center has been offering much-needed financial help with travel and lodging costs for donors who need to travel to their recipient’s transplant center. It’s a wonderful program, but it doesn’t cover lost pay. Now there’s a growing movement in Congress, spearheaded by Reps. Jaime Herrera-Beutler and Matthew Cartwright, to expand that assistance to cover lost pay. Contact your representative and tell him or her to get behind this important effort!

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Have you ever heard of WELD (spoiler: it has nothing to do with welding)? It stands for Women Encouraging Living Donation.  I’m guessing you’re going to start hearing more about it as this terrific organization grows. I recently went to my first meeting of its fledgling NC site. It was a kick, as always, to meet other women who’ve donated, are in the process of donating, or touched by donation and transplant in some way, whether personally or professionally.

The main WELD group started in 2015 in San Diego. It’s composed of dedicated living kidney donors, transplant recipients, transplant surgeons, nephrologists, nurse coordinators, transplant social workers, volunteer advocates—all women. WELD started as an offshoot of the John Brockington Foundation, founded by John and Diane Brockington. Diane donated her kidney to John, an ex-football star, in 2001, and they later married. Today the Foundation provides financial assistance and education resources to donors and recipients in the San Diego area. Meanwhile, WELD, led by Diane, actively encourages living donation through in-home presentations, one-on-one mentoring, billboards, and support of public events.

I heard about the San Diego organization more than a year ago and was excited to learn that they were exploring branching out. They’ve teamed up with Donate Life, which promotes organ donation (after death). Deceased donation alone can’t meet the need for organs—nearly 100,000 Americans are on waiting lists for a kidney, for example, and only about 20,000 transplants are performed each year. So, WELD—and other groups promoting living donation—hope to bridge that gap. I’m so happy to be a part of their efforts.