Brett Burks - 6

"It was around October 2012 when it was discovered I was in kidney failure. I had about 30 percent kidney function when they found out. In February 2013 they did emergency surgery so I would be able to start dialysis immediately.

"My doctors didn't know what caused my kidney failure. It was discovered only because I suddenly had extremely high blood pressure. I have asthma, and I went in to get an X-ray of my lungs, and when they checked my blood pressure, it was 220/128. I went to the emergency room, and that's when they discovered the 30 percent kidney function.

"I had been healthy my whole life up until that point. I never had any problems. I had asthma, but that was it. I got my blood pressure checked quite often, but all of sudden it was extremely high.

Burks Brett"We came to UAB to see what we could do and what our options might be in finding a kidney. After all of my tests, they told me I was a candidate for a kidney, and we got on the list. My wife's cousin, Karon Tidwell, decided to donate a kidney for me. We weren't a match, but that's when the incompatible paired program came into play.

"After we found out Karon was going to donate for me, it was pretty quick after that that things got moving — about two months, in fact.

"I had a few issues right after the transplant. I had hiccups for two weeks straight — non-stop. I've done that before after gall bladder surgery, and it lasted for about 6-7 days.

"For two weeks I could hardly eat or drink. My stomach muscles were hurting, and my throat was, too. It's amazing the complications that can occur from hiccups. The hiccups finally went away after I started taking a muscle relaxer, but I was sick. I had some lesions in my esophagus and I couldn't eat or drink. If I did try to eat or drink it burned like fire. That slowed my progression down a good bit.

"I was finally able to go home, and then we came back to UAB for my six-week checkup. I had been getting my blood and urine tested in Tupelo. They spotted high protein in my urine in Tupelo, which alarmed them a little bit. My protein levels were a little higher after I came back here. That's when they noticed my new kidney was failing. It wasn't functioning quite the way they thought it would. I stayed at UAB for about two weeks and they ran a lot of tests.

"They did a kidney biopsy as part of those tests, and that's when they started to think I had aHUS, or atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome. It’s a rare, life-threatening genetic disease that can damage vital organs, like the kidneys. It's possible the aHUS could have been discovered before my original kidneys failed, but they went downhill so fast that doctors weren't able to biopsy them.

"All of the tests I underwent before the transplant showed everything was fine. To have a transplant and then be on the verge of losing the kidney and find out it's because of something like aHUS is devastating.

Burks Bryson uabbaseball4Bryson Burks with the UAB baseball team"But there's nothing anybody could have done. The doctors at UAB have done everything right from the get go. My original kidneys were so far gone that the biopsy didn't show anything. All we can do from here is try to keep things under control and see what happens next.

"I know I'll go back to dialysis on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and I’m going to be on antibiotics for a while longer to try and get my immune system boosted back up so it can fight off infection.

"Despite all of this, I'm still so glad to be a part of the chain. You can't say enough good things about this program. Lives have been saved because of this chain. I'm proud to be a part of it. Sure, I wish it could have worked out a little bit better, but if we hadn't have been involved in this, other people would not have received their kidneys. Other people were able to benefit, and for that I'm thankful. How can you not be?

"I’d be lying if I didn’t say the past 18-20 months have been trying. My youngest son, Bryson, had a lot of health problems after I got sick. He started having seizures — anywhere from 10 to 20 a day — and he ended up in the hospital, too. He was diagnosed with conversion disorder, which happens to children sometimes in stressful situations. He’s doing better now, and UAB and Children’s of Alabama are a big reason why. The care he’s received has been phenomenal.

"And UAB’s baseball team kind of wound up adopting Bryson this past season. Coaches Brian Shoop and Perry Roth spent time with him as did so many of their players. Those young men were just unbelievable, to take time like they did for an hour or however long after practice just to be with him — and they're college kids. They've got things to do and other things they want to do. For them to take extra time out to spend with him has been amazing. They're a good bunch of kids, every one of them."

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.