Stevie Wonder: Are You Vaccinated?

I’m asking not just as a concerned long-time fan but mostly because he’s in the over-65 age group and, even more important, a kidney transplant recipient. The latter is a particularly vulnerable group because of having a tamped-down immune system designed to avoid attacking his transplanted kidney. If a kidney recipient like Stevie Wonder, or my son (to whom I donated 14 years ago), contracts the coronavirus, he is at far greater risk of having a severe case.

There are still some skeptics out there who fear taking the vaccine because kidney recipients—immuno-suppressed individuals in general—were not included in the vaccine clinical trials. I’ll admit I was a bit wary in the very beginning, too. But this is not a live vaccine, it’s safe, and it’s similar to earlier groups of vaccines about which scientists have a lot of experience. Also, and frankly, this is the bottom line: we do know about the risks of COVID and they’re very real. It’s no contest. Health authorities recommend that transplant recipients be vaccinated.

Alas, like everything else about this pandemic, access to the vaccines is not uniform. It varies by state, by demographic groups, and by circumstances. Millions of vulnerable people have not yet received theirs. In my state, North Carolina, healthcare providers of people with kidney failure and advocates, have urged the governor to move up this group in the priority order. As people in the currently eligible population still struggle to snare an appointment for theirs, it hasn’t happened yet.

Being in that eligible population, I feel very fortunate to be fully vaccinated—and now fully protected. Why am I still wearing a mask in the photo then? For the same reason I’ve been doing it since last spring: because we don’t know yet if vaccinated people can infect others–and I care about the people around me.

According to the Washington Post, “An estimated 81 million adults have conditions that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies as posing an increased risk for severe covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.”

 So, sure, it’s extremely comforting to know that I’m fully protected, but that’s not true for my immuno-suppressed son, my immuno-suppressed friends, my friends with health conditions in other states, my younger daughter, my neighbors—in fact, most of my community—so you bet I still wear a mask and keep my distance. It’s worth it.

(Stevie: If you have had the COVID shots, please show your card, too, and continue to tell your story. Let other transplant recipients and any skeptics know!)

Celebrity Kidney Recipients: Please Share Your Stories!

They’re athletes, actors, and musicians of different ages, races, and ethnicities. So, what do the celebrities listed below have in common? They’re all healthier, and very likely happier, because a living kidney donor gave them a shot at a better quality of life. The best way to shorten someone’s wait for an organ–rich or poor, famous or not–is to find a living donor. Sometimes it’s a biological family member who steps up–sometimes it’s a future or former partner. And sometimes it’s a Good Samaritan, who chooses to donate to an unknown person in need.

Fortunately, some of these famous live-kidney transplant recipients have become spokespersons for National Kidney Foundation campaigns, and some, like former NBA star Alonzo Mourning, comic George Lopez, and former NFL star John Brockington have gone so far as to launch their own kidney disease awareness foundations. (Did you know that my dear WELD [Women Encouraging Living Donation] started as an offshoot of the John Brockington Foundation before joining forces with Donate Life?)

Other celebrities have individually turned to the media to share their personal transplant experiences. Singer Selena Gomez and her donor, actress Francia Raisa, gave several helpful major interviews in 2019 about Gomez’s transplant, shedding light on the donation process and the aftermath. And actress Sarah Hyland candidly shared details of her two kidney transplants, first from her father and most recently from her brother, and of her struggles with depression.

Even though chronic kidney disease is more common than breast cancer or prostate cancer, the general public knows very little about it. If more celebrities who’ve been touched by kidney disease and transplant would openly talk about their life-changing stories, it could encourage more people to have their kidneys checked, register as organ donors, and even consider being living donors. All those actions would go a long way toward reducing the years-long wait for a kidney and ultimately saving more lives. By the way, celebrity status and money offer no privileges on the national waiting lists for a deceased donor.

How many of these celebrities did you know had had kidney transplants (the year of their transplant is next to each name)?

Stevie Wonder, Dec. 2019 (he says he feels “40 right now”!)

Ed Kranepool, 2019

Selena Gomez,  2017

Tina Turner, 2017

Sarah Hyland, 2012 and 2017

Tracy Morgan, 2010

George Lopez, 2005

Alonzo Mourning, 2003

John Brockington, 2002

Sean Elliott, 1999

 I wish them all continued good health with their adopted kidney. My son has had more than 14 years with his (that is, mine).

Celebrity Kidney Recipients: Please Share Your Stories!

They’re athletes, actors, and musicians of different ages, races, and ethnicities. So, what do the celebrities listed below have in common? They’re all healthier, and very likely happier, because a living kidney donor gave them a shot at a better quality of life. The best way to shorten someone’s wait for an organ–rich or poor, famous or not–is to find a living donor. Sometimes it’s a biological family member who steps up–sometimes it’s a future or former partner. And sometimes it’s a Good Samaritan, who chooses to donate to an unknown person in need.

Fortunately, some of these famous live-kidney transplant recipients have become spokespersons for National Kidney Foundation campaigns, and some, like former NBA star Alonzo Mourning, comic George Lopez, and former NFL star John Brockington have gone so far as to launch their own kidney disease awareness foundations. (Did you know that my dear WELD [Women Encouraging Living Donation] started as an offshoot of the John Brockington Foundation before joining forces with Donate Life?)

Other celebrities have individually turned to the media to share their personal transplant experiences. Singer Selena Gomez and her donor, actress Francia Raisa, gave several helpful major interviews in 2019 about Gomez’s transplant, shedding light on the donation process and the aftermath. And actress Sarah Hyland candidly shared details of her two kidney transplants, first from her father and most recently from her brother, and of her struggles with depression.

Even though chronic kidney disease is more common than breast cancer or prostate cancer, the general public knows very little about it. If more celebrities who’ve been touched by kidney disease and transplant would openly talk about their life-changing stories, it could encourage more people to have their kidneys checked, register as organ donors, and even consider being living donors. All those actions would go a long way toward reducing the years-long wait for a kidney and ultimately saving more lives. By the way, celebrity status and money offer no privileges on the national waiting lists for a deceased donor.

How many of these celebrities did you know had had kidney transplants (the year of their transplant is next to each name)?

Stevie Wonder 2019

Ed Kranepool 2019

Selena Gomez  2017

Tina Turner 2017

Sarah Hyland 2012 and 2017

Tracy Morgan 2010

George Lopez 2005

Alonzo Mourning 2003

John Brockington 2002

Sean Elliott 1999

 I wish them all continued good health with their adopted kidney. My son has had more than 14 years with his (that is, mine).

 

Wondering Who Gave a Kidney to Stevie Wonder?

You may have heard that Stevie Wonder had a kidney transplant recently from a living donor, and, fortunately, all is well. There’s been much speculation about the identity of his donor. If you too have been speculating, let’s test a few assumptions–and clarify a few things about living donation while we’re at it. What do we already know about the donor?

1-His donor needn’t be a family member—not even a distant relative. Anti-rejection meds are so advanced now that a good match is far less important, and more and more living donors are not blood relatives.

2-Stevie Wonder’s donor isn’t necessarily a man. I know many women who have donated to their husband, father, son (I donated to mine), friend–whatever. Though a very large man might have a kidney that’s too big for a small woman, and a small woman’s kidney might be too small for a very big man, for the most part, male-female donor pairs are not a problem.

3-The donor also needn’t be African American. It’s not at all uncommon for a white person to donate their kidney to a black person and vice versa.

4-His donor needn’t be young. I was 58 when I donated my kidney, and living donors over 50 are increasingly common—we now represent more than a third of living donors. Some transplant centers have a cutoff of about 70 for donors, but most decide on a case-by-case basis, depending on the kidney’s health and the donor’s overall health. I know of people who’ve donated in their mid-70s.

If you’ve read this far, you now know that we can’t assume much about Stevie Wonder’s donor. So, what can we assume? Just this: the individual is a very healthy, very caring adult.

I wish them both as positive an outcome as my son and I have had—and we’re 13 years post transplant. I really do hope they talk about it publicly to help clear up some more assumptions about living donation. Maybe doing so will encourage others to consider being living donors to meet the tremendous need and shorten the wait for a lifesaving organ. That’s ultimately what my co-author and I hope to do with our book in progress, “The Greatest Gift: The Insider’s Guide to Living Kidney Donation.”