Price Johnson - 23

Price and Vikki JohnsonPrice Johnson with his wife, Vikki“I found out my kidneys were failing in 1999 after I was diagnosed with gout. I was 39. The doctors began checking my kidney function. Soon, as they ran more tests, a trend pointed to kidney disease. I remember well the day the doctor informed me I had kidney disease, and there was nothing they could do. I had never imagined that I was sick. I rode and showed horses. I loved to run long distance. I rode bikes and played tennis. I saw myself as so healthy. I thought things like kidney disease happened to ‘other’ people.

“I was referred to a great nephrologist and wonderful man, Marcelo Ruvinsky in Jackson, Mississippi. For 14 years he monitored my kidney function and managed medicines to slow my kidney failure. He also advised a diet to manage my potassium levels and ease the stress on my over-worked kidneys.

“In spring 2013 he informed me that it was time to learn about dialysis and transplant options. Even though I had known for 14 years my kidneys would fail, this again was a shock. It’s like the Hemingway quote about how one goes bankrupt: ‘Gradually, then suddenly.’ I realized I wasn’t prepared for the next challenge.

“It was a scary time of taking tours through dialysis centers, reading about options and imagining what my life was going to be like. Through my nephrologist we set up an appointment for me to be evaluated for a transplant at UAB in August 2013. My family and I were nervous, but surprised at how efficiently all the tests were handled.

“This is when we met the transplant team at UAB that would handle my surgery. Everyone was very knowledgeable and courteous. I felt I was in good hands, but I was still anxious. Soon, we met Dr. Jayme Locke, who would be the chief surgeon on the team. Sometimes you meet a person and you know they’re special; and this was one of those times. Like most surgeons, she was extremely confident and knowledgeable. She even impressed my dad. He’s a retired surgeon and for many years was chief of staff of a large hospital. He’s hard to impress! But what really impressed us most about her was she seemed so, well, real. My family and I felt a little better on the way back home.

“My brother was evaluated a month later. We soon learned he was a match. We were all relieved. We still didn’t know what lay in store, but we all felt good about UAB.

“It was spring 2014 before my GFR [glomerular filtration rate, a measure of kidney function] hit 20. We were trying to get a transplant preemptively before I had to go on dialysis. My brother’s blood pressure had been a little high, so he was re-evaluated. Ultimately, he had to be refused. This was a real setback, because I didn’t have a donor. I’m pretty sure my brother was more upset than I was, because we all heard a clock ticking. I was still fairly active, but I could tell my body wasn’t firing on all cylinders. With my kidney failure my own blood pressure had become high, as well.

“My wonderful wife, Vikki, signed up to donate. Numerous cousins and friends signed up. It was amazing and humbling to have such an outpouring of love and sacrifice. A good friend of ours, Laura Lee, was evaluated, along with some others. The best way to sum up Laura is in something my wife said to Laura’s mom: ‘I hope Laura is a match. Maybe her kidney will sweeten Price up some!’ Thankfully, Laura was a match. 

“UAB contacted Laura, asking if she would be willing to enter the kidney chain program to see if they could find better matches for both of us. Vikki and I talked to Laura and her husband, Barry, about what to do. There were so many thoughts and emotions swirling around, it was hard to be sure. We decided to ask UAB if we could talk to Dr. Locke.

“Dr. Locke called us while she was at a conference. It was awesome that she would take the time to talk to us, because these decisions are a little scary. Dr. Locke did a great job explaining the science of the swap program in real terms. The information she gave convinced us that it was the right thing to do. The surgery was set for August 27, three weeks later. Again, I was shocked.

“Dr. Locke mentioned she didn’t want to wait too long. She wanted to perform the transplant before I was on dialysis. Also, I know how hard it is for my family to plan a time to get together. I’m sure scheduling four major surgeries at the same time requires some serious juggling! Still, I appreciate that the transplant could be accomplished before I developed other serious health problems. My recovery has gone well, and each day is a blessing.

“Now, everybody’s story should have a hero. This story has several: 

  • My wife, Vikki, has been with me throughout this whole challenge. During my recuperation she helped me out of bed a hundred times; she picked up things I dropped on the floor; she ran errands; delivered me to lab and clinic appointments; she walked with me, sat with me, encouraged me and comforted me. She is just wonderful.
  • My ultimate donor from the swap program honored their agreement with UAB and gave me a kidney, so that their loved one could receive a kidney transplant.
  • My brother, my cousin, and another friend were all willing to make an amazing sacrifice for me. They also took the time out of busy schedules to go to Birmingham and be evaluated.
  • Dr. Locke and the transplant staff at UAB — also, the nurses on the transplant floor, especially Josh and Linda who took extra time with me. Dr. Locke, in particular, is a special surgeon and a special person, because she doesn’t have to filter out the human element to do her job well. I imagine it’s hard for surgeon’s to see patients as real people with real lives, because of the variety of possible outcomes for each. I believe it takes more courage and more character for Dr. Locke to add that element to her practice. I am grateful she can.

“Speaking of grateful, I can’t express what it means to me that Laura Lee would decide to donate a kidney for me. Vikki and I have only known her for about two years, but we instantly became close friends. It was like we had known each other all our lives. When she heard about my kidney failure she told Vikki she felt she had a calling to help me. Amazing.

“Obviously, our families have become really close. Laura’s husband, Barry, works with me and took care of everything back home while we were in Birmingham. We have cattle, horses, dogs and land. It’s a lot of work, but we never worried while we were away from home. To know Barry was there was a comfort. Laura’s mom and their kids have become really close to us, as well. Vikki and I have a lot of respect and love for them all. They’re just good people.

“When I look at this kidney chain, I really think the focus should be on the donors. Laura Lee is the hero of my story. For all of us recipients in the chain, now living fuller lives because of it, our heroes are our donors. To me, the sacrifice the donors make is so concrete. You can sacrifice time, money — whatever. But to sacrifice an organ and take the risk of surgery to save somebody’s life, it doesn’t get more concrete than that.

“What is it that makes these donors willing to donate a kidney and to fulfill that obligation to UAB when they don’t have to? This kidney chain is really a continuing story of one sacrifice after another, all in the name of love. It’s a good story.”

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 .

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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.

kc baseball thumbUAB baseball team helps Mississippi family cope with loss of father, husband

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. 

chalice kc2Science, generosity save lives in UAB Kidney Chain

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.