Kidney donor and grateful transplant recipient join Donate Life ceremonies

Two donors hold up the donate life flag, kidney donor, transplant recipient, donate life, transplant program, non-directed donor, jose amigon tlatenchi

As we celebrate Donate Life month in April, a promotion to increase awareness about organ, tissue, and eye donation and what that can mean to others, we annually raise the Donate Life flag in a celebration on our campus.

This year, the celebration included a kidney donor and the recipient of his kidney, who actually met for the first time last fall.

Bruno Franck, a non-directed living donor, had donated through our Hennepin Healthcare Transplant Program’s waitlist. A non-directed donor is someone who comes forward wanting to be a donor but doesn’t have a recipient in mind.

Bruno had been working with our transplant program two years earlier to donate a kidney to someone he knew, but unfortunately, the process wasn’t able to happen. However, Bruno still had the desire to help someone who needed this vital organ. So he decided to donate to someone on our transplant waitlist.

Unlike that national waitlist, donating directly to our program gave Bruno more authority on when the donation would take place. “You have more control over timing,” said Jenny Bodner, Living Donor Coordinator for the Transplant Program. “If you donate to the national waitlist, you are more at the mercy of where that recipient will be.”

Although not a common occurrence, a non-directed donor is not unheard of. “We usually only have one, non-directed donor a year,” said Jenny. “There are people that come forward as donors, but there is a rigorous physical involved and many are healthy but not healthy enough to go through the surgery. A lot of people that come forward get declined.”

The first meeting came during a time when the transplant program saw fewer donors come forward due to concerns about COVID-19. In addition, donor recipients are immunocompromised (meaning your immune system’s defenses are low which affects its ability to fight infection and disease), so the COVID vaccines do not offer as much protection as they do for someone with a healthy immune system.

When Bruno came forward as a donor, he was eventually matched with Jose Amigon Tlatenchi, a total stranger. However, the two were not allowed to exchange any information until several months after the surgery took place to give both time to heal and recover. After this time, both Bruno and Jose still wanted to meet.

“Their identities were kept secret for six months after the transplant,” said Sarah Schuh, who works as a social worker within our transplant program. “They met for the first time on November 19, 2021 – it was an amazing meeting!”

Jenny described the moment as emotional for all involved. “Not all make it up to the point where they receive this transplant,” she said. “[This meeting was] very refreshing and well-needed.” The meeting also served as a great reminder of the important work that the specialized teams throughout our system do every day that make a difference in the lives of our patients.

And then they met again, at the flag-raising ceremony. The Donate Life flag has become a national symbol of unity, remembrance, and hope while honoring those touched by donation and transplantation.

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