When 18-year-old college freshman Mayriah Brown died unexpectedly during the Christmas holidays, her family reached out through their grief to donate one of her kidneys to Jason Martinez. The Brown family knew that the 38-year-old father of four was on the transplant waiting list because their 14-year-old daughter plays on the same select softball team as his twin daughters.
“I was lying in bed Christmas night and I got a phone call from our friend, Robbie Brown,” Martinez recalls. “She said, ‘Our daughter is passing, but we want to bring happiness to your family.’ I didn’t have any words. This family thought of me at the worst time in their life, when they were losing their child.”
The kidney was a good match, enabling the transplant at Medical City Fort Worth on Dec. 28, 2016.
“It was a miracle. God put the Browns in my life for a reason,” Martinez says. “We’re a family now; we’re tied together.”
“Mayriah cared for everyone around her for her whole life,” Brown says. “I just knew this was something she would want to do, and the very first person who came to mind was Jason. We’ve known him a few years, and he had shared his story with me and what he was going through. I knew he was a good person and we wanted to help him. The donation honors Mayriah’s life, and that’s helping us to get through this. The last I heard, her organs were saving up to seven lives.”
The transplant team used a pioneering robotic surgery procedure performed by a limited number of surgeons and facilities worldwide. Medical City Fort Worth was the first in Texas to perform the procedure. George Rofaiel, MD, surgical director of kidney transplant at Medical City Fort Worth’s Transplant Institute, used a da Vinci Xi® surgical robot to transplant the kidney. Benefits for the patient include a faster recovery, less chance of infection, less pain and a smaller incision, according to Dr. Rofaiel.
“The robotic system enabled us to avoid the typical, 10-inch incision made in the lower abdomen, just above the groin, which exposes the layers of the abdominal wall,” Dr. Rofaiel explained. “In that location, there’s a particular risk for herniation and infections after surgery, as well as for lymphoceles, or fluid, collecting. Some of these complications simply don’t happen with the robotic procedure, like the lymphoceles. We can go into a different location – the upper abdomen –using an incision that’s one-third the size. We can avoid infections and hernias, allowing for faster recovery. In this case, Jason was able to go home less than 72 hours after the surgery, taking only Tylenol for pain.”
“The next day after the surgery, I was a little sore, but there was no pain at all,” Mr. Martinez says. “And when I got home, it was just off-the-wall energy. Yesterday I went on a three-mile walk (two weeks post-surgery). It’s been phenomenal.”
Martinez battled diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension) for years and was on dialysis for a year. The Transplant Institute team helped him work to get healthy enough for the transplant. One step in that journey was bariatric surgery performed by Jay Patel, MD, at Medical City Fort Worth, which helped Martinez lose 100 pounds and also brought his diabetes and hypertension under control. In May 2016, he was officially listed for transplant.
“Kidney transplant patients often have other health issues, besides just the failing kidneys,” says Dr. Sridhar Allam, medical director of Medical City Fort Worth’s kidney transplant program. “Our team looks at the entire picture for the patient, working to help resolve issues that might keep them from being eligible for a transplant.”
More than 99,000 people are currently on the waiting list in the United States for a kidney, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). However, overall organ transplants performed in the United States in 2016 reached a new record high for the fourth consecutive year, according to preliminary data reported earlier this month by UNOS. For the year, 33,606 transplants were reported, representing an 8.5 percent increase over the 2015 total and an increase of 19.8 percent since 2012.