05:54 AM

Keck Medicine of USC launches unique wellness program to help potential living kidney and liver donors improve their health and increase donor availability

Almost one-third of potential living kidney or liver donors seen at Keck Hospital of USC have reversible medical conditions which, if improved, could optimize their ability to safely donate

LOS ANGELES — More than 110,000 people in the United States are on the waitlist for lifesaving organ transplants. However, there is a national shortage of available viable kidneys and livers for people on the transplant waitlist, highlighting the need for more living donors.

Living donor transplants, where donors either donate one of their two kidneys or part of a liver to a patient, allow patients in need to receive an organ sooner, improving their chance of survival. Yet nationally, living donor transplants make up only approximately 30% of kidney transplants and 5% of liver transplants.

Each year Keck Hospital of USC assesses some 250 potential living kidney donors and 150 potential living liver donors, typically family or loved ones of the person needing the transplant. Approximately 30% of these donors are rejected due to obesity-related conditions such as high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease. These medical issues may make the surgery less safe for them and can potentially adversely affect the organ they hope to donate.

To improve the health of would-be donors, the USC Transplant Institute of Keck Medicine of USC is launching a unique living donor wellness pilot program that will help donation candidates make sustainable lifestyle changes.

“Keck Medicine wants to creatively and effectively provide the needed support for these donors to not only become healthy for surgery, but for the rest of their lives,” said Jim Kim, MD, director of the program and of kidney and pancreas transplantation at Keck Medicine.

The long-term aspect of the program is crucial. “Without interventions, some of these would-be donors themselves will need a liver or kidney transplant themselves one day,” Kim added.

The program also aims to reduce health disparities in the local community. Keck Medicine serves a large Latinx population, and many of those wishing to become a living donor are Latinx.

“Our efforts are even more crucial because the Latinx community has disproportionately higher rates of obesity and diabetes than other population groups,” said  Helen Hyosun Han, MD, a transplant hepatologist at Keck Medicine and medical director of Keck Medicine’s Living Donor Liver Program.

Participants in the donor wellness program will receive access to nutrition consultations and a registered dietitian, lifestyle redesign coaching with an occupational therapist and fitness support. Participants will also receive a wellness starter kit with additional resources such as:

  • Personalized meal plans, a body weight scale and a sports water bottle.
  • A wearable fitness tracker and a blood pressure monitor.
  • Access to the Mindful USC mobile app, which includes guided meditations.
  • A wellness journal.

Participants will be regularly monitored by the transplant team to determine if and when they are healthy enough to donate. Once a participant becomes a donor, the team will monitor them for two years post-surgery to encourage ongoing healthy lifestyle habits.

The pilot program plans to enroll up to 20 participants in the first year. To be eligible for the program, candidates must be:

  • Eighteen years or older.
  • Financially and psychologically suitable for organ donation.
  • Medically determined to have a fatty liver, prediabetes and/or metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and Type 2 diabetes).

 To learn more about the USC Transplant Institute, please click here.