UPDATE - Native Texan and Longtime Austinite Reaches Out to Community for Kidney Donation | Shalom Austin

UPDATE – Native Texan and Longtime Austinite Reaches Out to Community for Kidney Donation

Community News, The Jewish Outlook

Jul 28, 2021

The Jewish Outlook published the story of Melanie Nirken Kaplan’s kidney donor search in November 2019. Kaplan recently provided The Jewish Outlook with an update on her health and continuing search.  

“I consider myself super lucky after being diagnosed 5 years ago with kidney failure, yet I have been able to manage through the years, working and appreciating life. Ironically, now that the pandemic is settling down, my levels have reached a new scary low…My situation is dire,” said Kaplan.  

After a multi-year process of discovering that her immediate family members, including her daughter, husband, siblings and first cousins, are not a match, Kaplan continues her search for a kidney donor. 

“Due to medication, I began taking over 40 years ago to alleviate the symptoms of lupus, my kidney function is grossly diminished. My kidneys are damaged. I have been on the national kidney donor list since 2019 for a deceased person’s kidney, but knowing the wait is arduously long (seven years) and that there are many researched-based reasons why a living donor kidney is more beneficial, I have worked tirelessly to build a network of caring individuals to help us locate the right live donor for the transplant I must have. While these efforts are fierce and deeply appreciated, we need more help.” In August 2021, Kaplan will begin dialysis. 

To register to become a possible donor, visit www.HoustonMethodistLivingDonor.orgOnly O blood types (O+ or O-) can be possible donors for Kaplan. 

For more information, contact Melanie Kaplan at melkap68@gmail.com

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Published November 2019

Native Texan and Longtime Austinite Reaches Out to Community for Kidney Donation

By Tonyia Cone

 When Melanie Kaplan was 7 years old, she was diagnosed with collagen vascular disease. Her mother had lupus and from the time Kaplan was in third grade until she was 26 years old, Kaplan had the telltale symptoms of the disease — fatigue, muscle and joint pain and immune issues.

When she was 26, a doctor confirmed that she did indeed have lupus, which Kaplan pointed out is, like auto-immune diseases in general, more common amongst Ashkenazi Jews than the general population.

As a result of the combination of medications and treatments Kaplan had over the years, her kidney function started to decline. While other individuals could have taken the same medications and not experienced kidney damage, Kaplan explained, it just happened to affect her body this way.

In order to avoid further kidney problems, Kaplan changed her medications when she was 40. She and her doctors believed that when she stopped taking anti-inflammatories, the kidney damage would stop progressing. People can live with one kidney – a 50 percent function level — and Kaplan was at 60 percent.

Her doctor continued to follow her, and nine years later in 2016, Kaplan’s physician told her that her functioning was again declining and she would need a transplant in three to five years. 

“It was never on my radar. I’d never had any indication that my kidneys were that failing. It just kind of came out of the blue,” said Kaplan, who then changed doctors. Her new doctor confirmed that her kidneys were not doing great but thought she would not need a transplant for another 10 years.

In August 2017, Kaplan and her husband moved to Boston, where she began seeing a doctor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center who confirmed that her kidney function was around 25 percent, and said she was about a year or two from needing a transplant.

Now the time has come, and Kaplan’s kidney function has declined to 15 percent, the point when she requires a transplant.

Kaplan is on the National Kidney Registry, which typically results in a kidney from someone who has died. With a waiting time up to seven years, deceased donors’ kidneys typically do not last as transplants for more than a few years.

A live donor’s kidney can last as a transplant for up to 20 years, and could be transplanted quickly after a donor is identified. So Kaplan is looking for her own live donor in order to receive a transplant before her kidney function drops to 10 percent, at which point she will have to endure years of dialysis. Kaplan explained that she is a better transplant candidate before dialysis, since she is healthier. Outcomes of successful transplant are much better before a patient needs that kind of care.

Kaplan is reaching out to the Austin Jewish community with her search because of her personal roots in the community and for medical reasons. 

A Houston native, Kaplan moved to Austin in 1997 as an inaugural teacher at the Austin Jewish Community Day School, now the Austin Jewish Academy. While helping to start the school as a first and second grade teacher, she worked toward her doctorate in special education at the University of Texas.

While in Austin, Kaplan was an active member of Congregation Kol Halev and Congregation Beth Israel. She also held the first special needs coordinator position at Congregation Beth Israel and from 2008 to 2012, was assistant director of the JCC’s Early Childhood Program.

Kaplan’s brother and sister still live in Austin and the rest of her family is in Houston.

“People there know me better than the community I’ve now lived in for two years,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan explained she is looking for the best possible match, and Jewish genes may play a role in finding that closest match.

Kaplan’s donor must be O+ or O- blood type. Donors are usually required to be at least 21 years old. There are restrictions for donors older than 60 and those with diabetes type 1 or 2, those who have had cancer, and those on more than one blood pressure medication are not eligible to donate.

Other factors come into play as well, including medical, environmental and psychological history, and antigen matching. It is not required that all six antigens match, thanks to modern anti-rejection medications that are available. But the more antigens that match, the better, because if Kaplan can avoid the anti-rejection medications, she will be able to also avoid their side effects. 

“When you look within the Jewish community, because we’re all tangentially related in some way, if you’re Jewish, you have some of the same DNA as other Jewish people. It’s just a better chance that I’ll match someone Jewish than non-Jewish, but I could match anybody with the new drugs,” she said.

Once Kaplan finds a donor, all donor expenses will be covered by her insurance, including lab tests and doctor visits in the donor’s hometown and all medical, transportation, lodging and food during the transplant period, including surgery and recovery time in Boston. Kaplan and her husband, Jeff, will cover the costs for a companion or caregiver to accompany the donor for the entire transplant period. Kaplan is also part of a National Institute for Health project that reimburses the donor up to $3,000 for lost wages during the transplant surgery and recovery period.

Most medical tests can be done where the donor lives. For the transplant surgery, the donor will have to travel to Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston. 

Kaplan explained that the donor procedure is not complicated and usually is laparoscopic. The expected hospital stay for the donor is two days, and the donor will be required to stay in the Boston area for up to two weeks after the transplant to be followed by the surgeon. Donation of a kidney should not impact a person’s future health because the remaining kidney can provide the support the body needs. All donor information is kept confidential; even Kaplan will not know who adds their name to the list unless those individuals tell her.  

Kaplan encourages everyone to consider donating blood to the local blood bank, even if they cannot donate a kidney. 

“Patients like me always need blood. I will not get the blood donated in your local communities, but I will get blood from my community and want to advocate for people to give blood to help others,” she said in an email she sent to friends and relatives. 

“If you are considering becoming my donor, please find out your blood type as soon as possible and register on the website. Even if you are not certain you want to donate you can register and learn more about the process once you are contacted by Anne, the donor nurse. I know this is a big ask. I appreciate your support,” said Kaplan. 

For more information, contact Melanie Kaplan at melkap68@gmail.com. 

To sign up for donor testing, visit bidmc.org/transplant. 

Note: This is a personal story, and the subject has asked for it not to be referenced or shared on social media in order to protect her sensitive information from scammers and hacks who target those in need of organ donation. The Jewish Outlook asks readers to respect this request.

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