Detroit-Area Billboard Seeks Kidney Donation for Grandma

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Detroit-Area Billboard Seeks Kidney Donation for Grandma
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A billboard in the Detroit metro area seeks a kidney donor for grandmother Virginia Millens. (Photo courtesy …

The wait list to get a new kidney is estimated at five to 10 years, says Living Kidney Donors Network (LKDN), and more than 93,000 people need one. So what do you do when someone you love needs a kidney and you can't provide it? Jerry Millen, of Hartland Township, Michigan, is asking via billboard for a kidney for his mother, Virginia Millen, says the Daily Press & Argus.

Kidney Donation Issues

Jerry Millen said he didn't think much about organ donation until his 73-year-old mother got sick. He said he'd gladly give up a kidney to help her -- "It's your mom. You do that for her." But donor blood type must match the recipient's. He doesn't match Virginia's type-O blood. She did match with her other son, but there was a problem with antibodies. Jerry would have paid a donor, but it's illegal, to prevent human trafficking and organ harvesting, to transact money for organ transplant donation.

Kidney Donation Billboard

Jerry learned from working in media how powerful advertising is. He got the billboard brainstorm from a dancer who stands on a local street corner advertising for gold buyers. Jerry originally planned to get attention for his mother's kidney by "standing at an intersection wearing a sandwich board with my son dressed in a kidney costume." But he realized he needed something different and more personal. Instead of a generic public service announcement, he wanted to put a face on the plea. So he rented a billboard and featured a picture of Virginia surrounded by her grandkids (Jerry's kids) -- Presley, 8, and twins Hayden and Jerako, 5. The billboard reads, "Save Our Grandma" and lists an email, saveourgrandma@gmail.com, and a toll-free contact number, 1-855-94-GRAMS.

I talked to Jerry and the kids on their way back from a family trip up north this weekend. I asked Hayden how it felt to see her picture on the billboard, and she murmured sleepily, "Happy." I asked Presley (who articulates Grandma's situation on the voice message you hear when you call the toll-free number) how he felt. He replied, "I feel proud, because people will see me."

Transplant and Dialysis

It took the Millen family seven months of testing at the University of Michigan hospital to get Virginia on the kidney wait list. She's been on it for about a year and a half. Patients who've been waiting longer get higher priority, but waiting means most end up on dialysis. If Virginia doesn't get a kidney soon, she'll be starting dialysis. A longer time on dialysis negatively impacts short- and long-term success rates of kidney transplant. LKDN says if kidney transplants don't increase dramatically, there will soon be over 100,000 people waiting, and their waits will exceed 10 years.

Kidney Donation Pairing

Jerry said kidneys can't be sold, but they can be traded. Wanting to do something "proactive," he joined a kidney pairing program. Alliance for Paired Donation (APD) connects folks like the Millens with unmatched donor/recipient pairs. The donor gives a kidney to a person he matches and receives, in return, a kidney for his loved one in need. APD also connects donors via NEAD ( Non-simultaneous Extended Altruistic Donor) Chains. Transplants don't have to be performed simultaneously -- Jerry and other donors can effectively help a number of people in a chain reaction of giving.

Donation Concerns

Jerry said he was surprised when reading donor stories on the National Kidney Foundation website at how little life changes having only one kidney. He was told that after a few weeks post-operative recovery, a donor can pretty much return to normal. Usually, physicians warn against contact sports, but he was told he could probably even return to playing hockey. Staying healthy is important, he added.

Jerry's Goals

The billboard went up on Memorial Day near the northbound I-75 exit to 12 Mile Road in Madison Heights, Michigan, a Detroit suburb. Jerry could only get space for a week, because space is in high demand. Besides finding a match for his mom, he hopes to raise awareness about living kidney transplants and organ donation.

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