Donate Life Month: HCA Healthcare colleague celebrates second chance at life after kidney donation  

Couple smiling for photo on a hike

Each April, we celebrate Donate Life Month, a time to acknowledge and encourage the gift of life that organ donation provides. Preliminary data from United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) revealed that 41,354 organ transplants were performed in the United States in 2021, an increase of 5.9% over 2020 and the first time the annual total exceeded 40,000. The transplant milestone marks the most lives ever saved in one year.

With 11 transplant hospitals across the U.S., HCA Healthcare contributed to the record-breaking year cited by UNOS, with a total of 1,103 organ transplants performed at our facilities.

“I am proud of the collaborative, multi-disciplinary transplant teams across HCA Healthcare who’ve urgently worked to find innovative ways for our patients to achieve kidney, heart, liver, and pancreas transplants in 2021,” said James Pittman, MSN, RN, assistant vice president of transplant services at HCA Healthcare. “Furthermore, I am grateful for the thousands of organ donors who’ve given HCA Healthcare patients an incredible gift, one that they will carry with them everywhere they go – the gift of life.”

As we continue to recognize Donate Life Month, learn about the vital clinical and educational role our colleagues play in organ donation and transplantation. Plus, read about a special HCA Healthcare colleague who received a second chance at life thanks to a kidney transplant.

West Florida Division honors organ donors

For Ravi Chari, MD, president of HCA Healthcare’s West Florida Division, April elicits flashbacks of the many days and nights he spent in the operating room as a transplant surgeon. “It was one of the most intriguing and meaningful jobs I’ve ever had,” Ravi reflects. “To me, there was always something miraculous about the fact that the very organ you held in your hands, that came from someone who just passed away was about to give life to someone else who had been praying for a second chance to live.”

According to the Organ Procurement & Transplantation Network, in 2021 alone, more than 2,700 organ transplants were performed across the state of Florida. “Selflessly, donors across the Sunshine State stepped forward and said to someone in need, ‘Let me take this burden from you.’ By giving a part of themselves, they gave another person more days to live,” said Ravi. “Our caregivers who engage in, or support transplantation know that being a part of that exchange is really one of the most gratifying experiences. And much like it takes a very special person to be a caregiver, it also takes an incredibly special person to be an organ donor.”

Across West Florida, many HCA Healthcare hospitals are hosting special Donate Life Month flag-raising ceremonies so that recipients can pay their respects to donors and share a special moment of gratitude with the teams who cared for them.

Janet and David Weinstein, kidney transplant recipients and LifeLink volunteers, recently joined Lifelink’s Ashley Sullivan to speak with visitors and caregivers at HCA Florida Englewood Hospital.

HCA Healthcare Far West Division colleagues are a match in more ways than one

couple standing with dog on a hike

Derrick and Lauren Naegler met in 2014 on a bus ride home to Tallahassee, Florida, from Dallas. The two college students were involved in Florida State University’s marching band and had performed at the annual Cowboy Classic football game against Oklahoma State University. Derrick played the tuba, and Lauren played the clarinet.

The two had never spoken before the bus ride. “At a rest stop in Louisiana, Derrick struck up a conversation, and the rest is history,” Lauren recalled.

Derrick and Lauren said “I do” on January 25, 2020. After their honeymoon, the newlyweds began their lives together, accepting job offers from HCA Healthcare hospitals in Las Vegas. Derrick at Southern Hills Hospital & Medical Center and Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center for Lauren.

Near the end of 2020, Derrick transferred from Southern Hills Hospital & Medical Center to sister-facility MountainView Hospital and was promoted to Associate Administrator. Lauren also worked to advance her career and was promoted to a human resources business partner at Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center. The husband and wife also became proud dog parents. Despite the challenges of working in the healthcare field during a global pandemic, things were looking good for the couple.

In the background, Derrick had not been feeling great. While at work, Derrick’s colleagues noticed he was moving slowly and had been experiencing aches and pains that were abnormal for a 26-year-old. Derrick was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune and inflammatory disease that causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of joint function.

In April 2021, Derrick suffered a massive nose bleed that sent him to the emergency room. Two days later, he began to cough up blood.

X-rays of Derrick’s lungs looked like broken glass, similar to what was typically seen due to an infection caused by COVID-19. Further evaluation revealed his kidneys were shutting down and that Derrick had a rare autoimmune disorder, Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis (GPA), which affects his vascular system, lungs and kidneys.

Derrick was put on medicine which cleared up his lungs and breathing, but his kidneys were still not responding. “They said the damage was permanent. I had about 10% kidney function,” Derrick said.

Selfie of couple

“When I heard that A, Derrick had this illness and B, that his kidney damage was permanent, it was all very sudden and completely shocking. For us just to watch him process this diagnosis, knowing him as long as I have, was honestly inspiring. I always say he is the best person I know in the world, and watching him take everything in stride makes me more in awe of him.”

– Lauren Naegler, HCA Healthcare colleague & Derrick’s wife

Though it can take many years to match an organ donor, Derrick requested that he be added to the waitlist. In the meantime, he was placed on daily home dialysis, which removes waste from the blood when the kidneys can no longer function.

Kidney transplantation significantly prolongs and improves life compared to dialysis. A recipient can obtain a kidney from a living donor or a deceased donor.

Live donation allows patients to receive a transplant without waiting for an organ from a deceased donor. Live donors undergo a rigorous set of evaluations to determine eligibility. 

For Lauren, it was a no-brainer. Along with two of Derrick’s uncles and a hospital security director, she decided to add her name to the donor list.

All of the people who put their names on the list to help Derrick as a live kidney donor came back as a blood type match – including Lauren. Subsequent tests showed Lauren was not only a blood match but a better genetic cross match than others.

Derrick was initially hesitant about his wife donating her kidney. “I was scared,” Derrick recalled. “But she talked me into it. I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Derrick said the couple’s sense of humor has kept them going. “She told me it is marriage insurance, I can’t return her without all of her parts,” Derrick said with a laugh.

“I know I was supposed to be his support system, but he remained my support system through everything,” said Lauren. “There is nothing in the world that I wouldn’t do for him.

Related article: HCA Healthcare affiliate Methodist Hospital I Specialty and Transplant achieves new national kidney transplant milestone

As the couple explored their options for kidney transplant surgery, their HCA Healthcare family provided support and expertise. James Pittman, assistant vice president of transplant services at HCA Healthcare, and Dr. Adam Bingaman, HCA Healthcare’s national medical director of solid organ transplant and director of Methodist Hospital |Specialty and Transplant’s abdominal transplant program were quick to provide a consultation for a fellow HCA Healthcare colleague in need.

Couple smiling for selfie in hospital beds

The kidney transplant was scheduled for September 2021 at affiliate Methodist Hospital |Specialty and Transplant.

Lauren’s surgeon, Dr. Luke Shen, said she had the option to have her kidney to be harvested in Las Vegas but chose to have the surgery done at Methodist Hospital |Specialty and Transplant in San Antonio due to the transplant center’s reputation for live donor kidney transplants. “It was good to know that they were comforted by our program,” commented Dr. Luke Shen.

Both surgeries went well, and the couple recovered in San Antonio before returning to Las Vegas. Near the end of his stay, Derrick felt well enough to explore Texas and even purchased a pair of cowboy boots.

Dr. Yang, the nephrologist who cared for Derrick at MountainView Hospital, said Derrick’s story should be one of hope for other patients going through a similar situation.

“If you take anything from his story, it’s that it doesn’t matter what life throws at you, it’s how you respond to it,” Dr. Yang said. “If you are dedicated and in a positive way, even something like severe kidney failure at a young age won’t hold you back from reaching your goals.”

For more information about living donation and organ transplants, visit United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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