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Successful kidney transplant driven by care team, community support

April 26, 2018 by Erica Mizelle

GREENVILLE, N.C. – “It was a life-changing experience.” That’s how Brandon Hodges describes the kidney transplant he received a couple of months ago at Vidant Medical Center (VMC).

Hodges, a P.E. teacher and coach at The Oakwood School, was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, also known as Berger’s disease, at 14 years old. The disease usually progresses slowly over many years with different outcomes for different people. In Hodges’ case, with declining kidney function pushing him toward stage-five kidney disease, a transplant was the best option.

David B. Leeser, MD, chief of surgical immunology and transplantation at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University and the chief of transplantation at VMC, heard about Hodges’ case through a couple of colleagues. “One of our transplant assistants came in, told me about Brandon and said, ‘We have to transplant this guy.’ I said, “Well, get me the number.”

Leeser left a message for Hodges on his work voicemail on Jan. 2. “A week later, he was in my office,” Leeser said.

Word-of-mouth and promotion on social media helped generate interest in Hodges’ case and highlight the need for a suitable donor. Mike Ward was one of many who volunteered to be screened. “’I know I’m going to be the one,’ that’s what he said when he called into our program,” said Leeser.

“To be able to provide a better quality of life to someone is pretty incredible,” said Ward, an acquaintance of Hodges for more than 20 years. “I look at it as a friend helping a friend. I’ve got two kidneys and only need one, why not one give one to a friend?”

Less than a month after the initial meeting with Dr. Leeser, Hodges and Ward went into surgery at VMC on Feb. 6. Each surgery went well, with positive outcomes for both. Ward was back at work in two weeks and Hodges has a new lease on life.

For Heather Jones, MD, medical director of Vidant transplant services, who will continue to be involved in Hodges’ care moving forward, cases like his are the most fulfilling. 

“As a nephrologist who takes care of both transplant patients and those who are on dialysis, it is always rewarding to see people improve their quality of life and get back to the activities they enjoy,” Jones said. “It’s what I want for every patient, and I’m delighted it’s happened for Brandon.”

Due in part to the number of potential donors who came forward in support of Hodges, VMC recently joined the National Kidney Registry. The registry provides greater access to large pools of donor / recipient pairs, increasing the likelihood that a match can be made.

“We couldn’t do what we do without willing donors,” said J.E. “Betsy” Tuttle-Newhall, MD, chair of the department of surgery at Brody School of Medicine and surgeon in chief at VMC. “It’s an honor and privilege to work with someone as generous as Mike Ward, to the benefit of someone as deserving as Brandon Hodges.”

The need for donors is great: as of April 2, more than 95,000 people are awaiting a kidney across the country, including 2,600 people in North Carolina. It is free to register as a donor, which can be done online: www.carolinadonorservices.org.

About the National Kidney Registry

The National Kidney Registry (www.kidneyregistry.org) is a nonprofit organization with the mission to save and improve the lives of people facing kidney failure by increasing the quality, speed, and number of living donor transplants.

About Vidant Health

Vidant Health is a mission-driven, 1,512-bed health system that annually serves more than 1.4 million people in 29 eastern North Carolina counties. The not-for-profit system is made up of 12,000 employees, eight hospitals, home health, hospice, wellness centers, and Vidant Medical Group, a multi-specialty physician and provider group with more than 420 providers in more than 80 practice sites in eastern North Carolina. Vidant is affiliated with The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. As a major resource for health services and education, Vidant has a mission to improve the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina. For more information, visit www.vidanthealth.com.

About East Carolina University (ECU)

East Carolina University, or ECU as it’s best known, offers more than 85 bachelor’s, 72 master’s and 19 doctoral degrees to nearly 29,000 students on its Greenville, North Carolina, campus and through an acclaimed online learning program. The university’s school of medicine is recognized nationally for producing primary care physicians, cardiovascular research, advanced robotic surgery as well as obesity and diabetes breakthroughs. ECU also boasts the largest business school enrollment and largest number of new nurses and education professionals produced by a four-year North Carolina university, in addition to the largest studio art program in the state.

Located near Atlantic coast harbors where pirates once roamed, ECU adopted the “Pirates” mascot in 1934 for its athletics program and competes in NCAA Division 1. The university has a globally recognized academic underwater archaeology program and enjoys a supportive relationship with the U.S. military services.

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