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A Match Made on Facebook

By Caroline Eggers

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When Georgia police officer Raleigh Callaway progressed to end-stage kidney failure, he faced an additional challenge: African Americans are less likely to receive a kidney from a living organ donor.

His wife, Kristi, decided to try to increase his odds by creating a Facebook page. The couple posed for photos with their two young daughters, who held signs reading, "Our Daddy Needs a Kidney."

Shortly after the post, nearly a thousand people contacted the Emory Transplant Center with offers to help. The overwhelming number of callers forced the center to shut down its phone lines and direct the calls straight to voicemail."The response was really, really overwhelming," recalls Stephen Pastan, medical director of Emory’s kidney-pancreas transplant program. "It’s a big commitment to be a kidney donor."

More than 100 of the volunteers were evaluated as potential donors for Callaway, 49, whose renal failure was due to complications of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Chris Carroll, a 50-year-old health care consultant from Texas (at right, with Callaway), ended up being an excellent match. "I’ve donated blood for most of my life but had never considered giving a kidney," he said. "When I saw this story, I felt God calling me to do it."

Callaway received his donated kidney on Sept. 25, after just two months on the donor list. Both men came through the operation successfully, and Callaway’s condition improved almost immediately.

In response to the influx of calls, the Emory Transplant Center reorganized to shorten time between evaluations and referrals; it also added positions in both the living and deceased donor programs. Several of the callers were paired with others on the waiting list for kidney transplants.

The Emory Transplant Center has some of the highest successful kidney transplant rates in the nation. However, Georgia performs the lowest number of kidney transplants of any state. Close to 70 percent of dialysis patients in the Southeast are African American, nearly double the national average.

Emory researcher and epidemiologist Rachel Patzer leads a National Institutes of Health-funded community investigation on reducing disparities. Two years ago, the Carlos and Marguerite Mason Trust awarded $1.1 million to the Emory Transplant Center to improve access to transplantation care for low-income Georgians. And Pastan leads the program Explore Transplants, which holds educational sessions for dialysis unit staff. The goal is to identify dialysis centers with the lowest transplant rates or highest racial disparities and to reverse the numbers.

"The number of patients referred to transplant centers has gone up a lot," says Pastan. "And not just at Emory but at other centers in Georgia."

Meanwhile, the Callaways hope to share their good fortune by profiling others still waiting for a kidney on their Facebook page. As for the family’s message, it has been updated to read: "Our daddy found a kidney."

Related Resources:

"Social media campaign helps Georgia police officer find new kidney" (Emory News Center, 10/6/14)

Emory Kidney Transplant Program

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