M Health Fairview marks milestone of 10,000 kidney transplants

M Health Fairview marks milestone of 10,000 kidney transplants

M Health Fairview marks milestone of 10,000 kidney transplants

M Health Fairview has reached a major milestone by surpassing 10,000 kidney transplants. It’s one of only a few centers in the country to achieve this.

“It’s a huge achievement,” said Dr. Raja Kandaswamy, the medical director of solid organ transplants at the University of Minnesota Medical Center.

The 10,001st patient was Dale Sorensen from St. Francis. Two and a half years ago, Sorensen cut his foot while getting ready for a bonfire. The injury became infected and the combination of the antibiotics and Type 2 diabetes led to kidney failure.

“I was mentally preparing myself for three days a week of dialysis,” he said. “Hearing how terrible that can be, I was stressing out about that, ‘Am I even going to be able to work part-time if I’m doing that three days per week?’”

He was on the transplant list and got the call there was a donor just days before he was supposed to have a port put in for dialysis.

“They said get down to the hospital so I quick packed a bag and drove to the U, and the rest of the day was pretty much a whirlwind,” said Sorensen. “I got the transplant on March 31.”

Sorensen was a firefighter for the Bloomington Fire Department for more than 20 years, followed by 10 years as a volunteer firefighter for the Oak Grove Fire Department. He also worked for the Columbia Heights Police Department for 24 years, first as a community service officer and then as a police officer.

He’s used to taking care of others but his community rallied around him after he underwent the surgery.

“The support has been amazing,” said Sorensen.

He received a combined kidney and pancreas transplant.

“It’s a bigger procedure but also had greater benefits because you’re treating two problems in one shot,” said Dr. Kandaswamy. “It prevents further affliction of the kidney with ongoing diabetes because the diabetes has been ‘cured.’”

The kidney transplant program started in 1963 and there have been innovations as the years passed. Dr. Kandaswamy said that includes a better technique of matching a living donor and recipient called eplet matching. It can lead to less antibody formation.

“We’re looking forward to being able to use this technology, which is eplet matching, to take highly matched donors and recipients and actually get the recipients off anti-rejection drugs or immunosuppressives,” said Dr. Kandaswamy. “We are in the process of designing a trial with a couple of other leading centers in the world, so more to come on that.”

The main causes of kidney failure include diabetes and high blood pressure, according to Dr. Kandaswamy.

He said there are about 120,000 people waiting for a kidney transplant right now. Currently, the availability of donors remains the primary limiting factor for kidney transplants.

“When a donor and a recipient register with us and we find they are not highly eplet matched, we’re looking for a better match,” he said. “We put both the donor and the recipient into a national system called the National Kidney Registry.”

The registry contains potential donors and recipients across the country, which can increase the odds of finding a good match.

People interested in becoming organ donors at the time of their death can register at the Department of Motor Vehicles. 

“I’m so grateful to my donor who I may never know,” said Sorensen, who only knows it was a 38-year-old man.  “The rules are the donor’s family can make the decision to share and if they choose not to, I will never know. If I had the opportunity, I would obviously thank them.”

He is recovering from his surgery well. The experience made him want to pay it forward. While he cannot become a donor, he hopes his story will encourage others to consider it.

“It may never come to happen for you but if it does and you’re able to donate, it will change a life,” said Sorensen.