Michael Little - 14

smMicky Little“I had IGA glomerulonephritis, which, of all the kidney diseases, affects only a small amount of people. That kind of kidney disease has a slow failure. Usually you have about 10 years before the kidneys fail and you have to go on dialysis. With most of the other kidney diseases, you have about two years before you have to go on dialysis.

“It was around 2002-03 when I found out about my disease. I was a healthy person otherwise, and the doctors thought I could probably get a transplant before going on dialysis. I immediately went to UAB in 2004 to get on the list so when the time came that I needed a kidney, I’d be able to get one.

“I moved up close to the top of the list by about 2009, and then my insurance changed, and I had to go to a different hospital in Tennessee. I transferred my waiting time on the kidney list up there, and I was immediately at the top of their list. It couldn’t have been more than a couple of months before they had a kidney for me. Unfortunately, after the transplant, the kidney immediately failed. It never worked. And at the time, my old kidneys were still creating urine, it was just the creatinine part that was not working right. They didn’t realize the kidney wasn’t creating urine on the first day. I wound up going through a painful weekend, and when they did an ultrasound on Monday, they found out that the kidney had grown three times its size and had a blood clot in it.

“They rushed me to emergency surgery and told my wife it was serious — serious to the point that I could die from it. So, they took the kidney out.

“Fortunately, I wound up not going on dialysis immediately. Shortly after this, I retired and my insurance changed again, and my primary care doctor told me I needed to come back to UAB. I said, ‘I know.’ And I came back to UAB in 2010 or 2011. They thought I’d be back to the top of the list again pretty quick.

“But when I started sending my blood samples to UAB, they told me I had a problem. They said my PRA, or antibody count, was 99. I said, ‘What’s that?’ They said, ‘You’re body is creating antibodies so you’re kidney won’t match up with 99 percent of the people in the world.’ They told me that was caused by my first transplant. My body created antibodies and then I also had two blood transfusions. They told me they don’t normally transplant people with an antibody count above 30, and here I am at 99. They told me it could be five to six years before I could have another transplant. I was kind of stunned by that.

“They told me I needed a living donor transplant the next time, too. When they told me that, my wife thought she might be able to donate the kidney. She got evaluated in 2011, but she had a blood pressure problem and they knocked her off the list pretty quickly.

“That was when I went out and talked to friends here in town about needing a kidney. I had about five people say they would give me a kidney. Derek Lambert was one of them, and Mike Cooper was the other. These two guys said they would do whatever they could to help. They sent UAB their blood samples and were told they both could give a kidney, but that they didn’t match up with me. That’s when they told us about the paired program.

“They asked Derek and Mike if they wanted to stay on the program, and they said yes.

“I went on dialysis in 2011, and I was doing very, very good. My doctor said I was doing so good that he wasn’t sure a kidney transplant would improve my situation at that time. I was happy. I thought I could live the rest of my life doing this because I was doing so well.

“Then, I met with Derek in New Orleans in December 2013 after he graduated from seminary. He started talking to me about the transplant and said, ‘Hey, I haven’t heard from UAB in two or three years. Are you still on this program and are you going to need a transplant, or should I just forget about it at this point and move on?” I told him to forget about it and move on because I wasn’t ever going to be able to match up with anybody. I was a one percenter. And I felt so well that I didn’t even want a transplant at the time.

“Well, about a week or two after seeing Derek, he called me and said, ‘Hey dude, I got a call from UAB saying I need to come in for an evaluation.’ Then I got a call from UAB shortly after that saying they thought they found me a kidney. I said, ‘How in the world can that be?’ Then they told me they had a new program and I needed to come back over for an evaluation.

“I met with Dr. Jayme Locke in March. She explained everything to me about the program and told me I’d have to come over about 10 days before the surgery to have plasmapheresis.

“I asked her, ‘Why do I want to go through all of this again? I almost died from the first one. And I’m doing well on the peritoneal dialysis. Why should I do this?’ She told me the peritoneal dialysis wouldn’t last forever. She said, ‘Down the road you’re going to have infections and problems, and you’re not going to last forever on that.’ She told me the kidney she found was a good enough match that if I took care of myself, it could last until I was 90. She convinced me right then.

“When she met me, Dr. Locke told me my name had been on her bulletin board for two and a half years because I had been her toughest patient. She said, ‘I’ve looked at your name every day because we haven’t been able to come up with a match for you.’ She told me she had one now, that she was going to personally do my surgery and that she thought I was going to do very well. I told her, ‘OK, sign me up.’

“I knew my surgery would be sometime in May, and I came back home. Then I got a call from her saying they wanted to do it April 11, and I thought I’d have to be there 10 days before that to do plasmapheresis. But she said, ‘No. This is a perfect match. You don’t even have to go through plasmapheresis.’ I said, ‘Wow. That’s got to be like one in a million.’ She told me, ‘This is like you standing at half court of a championship basketball game and someone hands you a ball and tells you to throw it over your head and if you make it you win.’ She said, ‘You just dunked it.’ She told me this is a very unusual and rare situation. To me, that’s a miracle.

“Of course, I came over for the transplant, and everything went fine.

“Once I got home from the hospital, though, I started getting sick. My joints and bones started hurting real bad, and I had to go back into the hospital. I had an allergic reaction to some of the antibiotics and it caused my antibody count to go sky high.

“Dr. Locke told me she was going to have to do a biopsy because she thought the antibodies had damaged my kidneys. She wanted to see how much damage was done, and she said I was going to have to start plasmapheresis.

“They did the biopsy and I kept bleeding inside afterwards. Dr. Locke noticed what was happening and she jumped on top of me with all of her weight and pushed down hard with her fingers for 30 minutes to stop the bleeding. When I went to ultrasound after that, they discovered there was a blood clot sitting on my kidney. She told me they’d check the biopsy to see what kind of damage is done, and she said I was not going to be able to start plasmapheresis either because I’d bleed to death.

“She started me on IVIG (intravenous immunoglobulin) instead. And then, when she came back, she said the biopsy showed there was no damage to my kidney. None. She couldn’t believe it. She said the Lord must have been on my side because she’d never seen that before. It’s like there was a shield around my kidney.

“After five days of IVIG, I got ready to come home, and my antibody count was zero, which was amazing.

“Since then, I’ve been doing very well. All of my blood numbers are very good, and my creatinine numbers are good. Everything is great.

“I can’t thank those folks who wanted to give on my behalf — Mike and Derek — enough. Mike was rejected as a donor because of some previous surgeries than he had. And Derek, he hadn’t been my pastor for about three years, but we were still good friends. We went to his graduation in New Orleans. I knew he’d keep his word. I never doubted that with Derek.

“A lot of people look at him and say, ‘Wow. Here’s somebody who had no skin in the game giving a kidney to somebody.’ But that’s the kind of person Derek is.”

Celebrating the nation's longest kidney chain

High-tech medicine and human kindness combine in UAB's ongoing kidney chain, a series of transplant surgeries that have given 101 people so far a new lease on life. The chain is the nation's longest ever.

The kidney chain has been kept going by many remarkable acts of sacrifice, and has revealed many moving stories of determination. Tyler Williamson went to TEDx Birmingham’s 2017 event in March expecting to be inspired and to network and make new connections with fellow attendees. What the 27-year-old did not anticipate was that inspiration would lead him to volunteer to become a living kidney donor just seven months later. See his story in this video:

In their words, stories from our transplant donors and recipients.

Kendra BrooksKendra Brooks. After more than four years of dialysis treatments, Kendra Brooks received her transplant in April 2016. Kendra’s mom donated a kidney so her daughter could receive one and wrote a letter to share the news. “It said, ‘God has answered our prayers. We have a match.’ I cried puddles of tears of joy,” Kendra says. Learn more about Kendra.

sheldon vaughn webSheldon Vaughn. High blood pressure and diabetes ravaged Sheldon Vaughn’s kidneys, and it was the kindness of two donors who helped him achieve a transplant. “A dialysis nurse my wife and I came to know wanted to donate to me, but wasn’t a match for me, and her kidney went to a woman in Florida. But because of her donation, I was able go on the UAB list and received my kidney from a young woman named Nicole who had contacted UAB and wanted to donate her kidney to anybody. So in a sense, I feel like I have two donors.” Learn more about Sheldon.

laura burks w Laura Burks. With a desire to help others, Laura Burks was looking for her next opportunity when a friend posted on her blog about how she was going to donate a kidney. “I thought, ‘That is what I need to do,’ Laura says. “Before that, I didn’t know you could be a loving donor. I thought it was something that happens after you pass away. After realizing that I could give away an organ that I don’t have to have to live with, I thought, ‘If I don’t do this, my life’s not complete.’ I just knew somebody needed a kidney and they’re depending on some stranger to give up theirs, and I was that stranger. Learn more about Laura.

William Harris w William Harris. High blood pressure caused William Harris’ kidneys to fail, and he was told he would eventually need a kidney transplant to live. After nine years of dialysis treatments, his wish came true. “When I was told I was a candidate to get a transplant, and that there was a match for me, I didn’t have any fears,” William says. “I was humbled to know that someone wanted to give me a kidney.” Learn more about William.

Become a part of the chain

Donate a kidney 
If you would like to donate to someone in need of a transplant, begin by filling out this form. You can learn more about kidney transplantation at UAB here.  

Get on the list
If you are in need of a kidney transplant, you will need a referral from your nephrologist. Your doctor can get all the details here.

Give a gift
Support the UAB Comprehensive Transplant Institute with a donation online .


2018 By the Numbers Kidney Chain 600px

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UAB Kidney Chain news

kidney chain 100 graphic kc siteNation’s longest single-site kidney chain reaches 100

To date, 101 living donors have changed the lives of 101 recipients as part of the nation’s longest ongoing single-center paired kidney transplant chain.


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Young boy loses his dad, but finds many father figures on UAB's baseball team.


div kcFrom transplant lab worker to donor, employee becomes part of UAB’s world-record kidney chain

Divyank Saini is a UAB lab technologist and one of 17 employees who work behind the scenes at UAB Hospital to bring hope to those waiting on heart, lung, kidney, liver and other transplants. Saini made a decision that he wanted to do more than just his important work of interpreting lab samples to find the right matches. He decided to become a living donor and is UAB Kidney Chain donor No. 57. 


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Meet a family bound not by blood or name, but by their kidneys in the world’s longest living-donor kidney transplant chain. Discover how science and human kindness come together to save lives.


kc surgeryIncompatible, yet needed: What are incompatible kidney transplants? And why are they done?

The human body is primed to identify and destroy invaders like viruses, bacteria and other pathogens that can bring illness or death. Cells of the immune system and the antibodies they make recognize such foreign bodies and act to remove and destroy them. This defense system is a potential problem for kidney transplants. People have different blood groups and different human leukocyte antigens that can provoke an attack if a tissue, such as a kidney, or blood is transferred from one person to another. These two barriers are called blood group incompatibility and tissue (or histo-) incompatibility. A kidney transplant team uses the histocompatibility and blood bank testing laboratories to determine whether the tissues and blood group of a volunteer living kidney donor and the intended recipient match. A match is good, but matches are not always possible.


Jerry Phillips kcCommunity of the South: Donors help stretch UAB Kidney Chain to record 51 transplants

Fifty-first transplant means 102 total surgeries have been performed since December 2013 as the nation’s longest-ever chain continues to grow.


thompson kcNation’s longest kidney transplant chain reaches 34

The UAB kidney chain, which began December 2013 and expects more transplants in January 2015, ‘showcases the power of the human spirit in every aspect.’


nightline kcNation’s largest single-site kidney transplant chain underway at UAB

Since December, 21 living donor kidney transplants that have taken place at UAB are connected as donors “pay it forward” for a recipient to keep the chain going, and more transplants are scheduled for July.


locke press conferenceSnow can’t stop the Southeast’s largest kidney transplant chain at UAB

The unexpected 2014 snowstorm that crippled the Southeast did not deter the transplant team at UAB from continuing the largest nondirected donor chain ever performed at a single center in the Southeast. 


1080px UPDATE Kidney map 2018

The kidney chain has brought donors and recipients to UAB from across the eastern United States and as far away as Oregon.

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Learn more

dr locke video

UAB transplant surgeon Jayme Locke, M.D., and transplant nephrologist Vineeta Kumar, M.D., discuss living kidney donation and paired-kidney exchange in a series of videos on UAB's MD Learning Channel.