KANSAS CITY, Kan.—While flowers, dinner and chocolate work as gifts for some couples this Valentine's Day, one Kansas City couple had a very unique gift experience. Taesha Benson granted her boyfriend, Travis Spire-Sweet , the ultimate gift of love: her left kidney.
Travis, an acupuncturist, had suffered chronic kidney problems since birth. Having been born with only 25 percent of a functioning kidney, Travis wasn't expected to live past his first birthday. After learning to cope with chronic pain and discomfort, Travis became an advocate for other patients suffering from kidney disease. He had been on the deceased donor list for more than a year. Now, thanks to the donation of Taesha's kidney, which was a perfect match, Travis can look forward to a healthier and longer life. It's estimated that 69.3 percent of patients who received a kidney transplant are still alive five years after their surgery, according to 2009 statistics provided the Department of Health and Human Services.
The kidney transplant surgery was performed last week at The University of Kansas Hospital, and both Travis, age 30, and Taesha, age 32, are already home from the hospital and recovering well from the procedures. Even beyond their relationship, Taesha knew being a living donor was the right decision for her.
"Initially you think, 'How could I do that? I don't have it in me,'" she said. "But over time I got to know Travis and his love of life. Not many people come along who have his integrity, character, and optimism. Travis just happens to be my boyfriend. He has provided me with a new love of life."
February 14 is universally recognized as Valentine's Day, but few are aware that National Donor Day is also celebrated that day.
Established in 1998, National Donor Day is a time to raise awareness about the importance of organ and tissue donation. According to HHS statistics, an average of 18 people die each day waiting for transplants because of a shortage of donated organs. But thanks to living donors like Taesha and the compassion of deceased donors, each day an average of 79 people are able to secure life-saving organ or tissue transplants.
"Living donation helps in two major ways by not taking a potential deceased donor kidney from the organ pool, so it can be used for another recipient without a living donor AND it provides a living donor organ for a recipient who would otherwise have to wait years for a deceased donor kidney," said Sean Kumer , MD, Ph.D, surgical transplantation director, The University of Kansas Hospital. "Living donor recipients enjoy a longer organ survival on average 3-5 years longer than the commensurate deceased donor kidney."
One interesting Valentine's Day stat: the generosity of organ and tissue donation is found in both men and women, although the genders differ in terms of timing. According to 2010 HHS statistics, nearly two-thirds of all living donors are women (62 percent), while the statistics are essentially reversed for deceased donors (with men at 62 percent).
The University of Kansas Hospital has become a regional center for transplantation, having recently recognized reaching the milestone of 1,000 liver transplants. The hospital also enjoys the region's shortest organ waiting list times and excellent patient outcomes. One of the reasons Travis and Taesha selected The University of Kansas Hospital was because of its offering of an immunotherapy regimen that is tapered and gradual, which appealed to Travis' medical beliefs.