LIVINGSTON, NJ - The act of donating a kidney is usually one associated with providing life-saving help to someone in need who is a family member or a close friend, but the altruistic actions of Caldwell resident Brian Glennon has launched a new trend in organ donors.
Last October 2017, the 46-year-old father of four donated his kidney to a patient in need at the program at The Renal and Pancreas Transplant Division at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston. Glennon's actions were motivated not by knowing someone personally who needed a kidney, but by a desire to help others.
Glennon's participation in kidney-paired donation helped generate more interest and participation in one of the largest living kidney donor transplant chains in the United States. His kidney donation already has facilitated a chain of donor transplant surgeries of 23 patients living with kidney failure—saving their lives.
"Brian walks in my office and says, 'I want to give a kidney'," said Dr. Shamkant Mulgaonkar, chief of the transplant division at Saint Barnabas Medical Center. "'To who?' 'Anybody in your program' (he said)."
Saint Barnabas is bucking a national trend by experiencing an increase in altruistic donors—individuals electing to donate out of a sense of giving, rather than doing so for a family member or with any benefit to themselves. The rest of the U.S. is seeing a decline in living donors, but Saint Barnabas actually saw more altruistic donors than ever before in 2017, and that number so far in 2018 projects to be even higher still.
"I decided to donate because I kind of reflected on my life and realized one thing I was missing was giving back," Glennon said. "Organ donation is something I care very deeply about."
In 2013, Saint Barnabas was the first hospital in the U.S. to shift its focus to the promotion of living donation and created the Living Donor Institute. The hospital's continued growth has given it the distinction of being the largest living donor program in the nation and the third-largest kidney transplant program in the U.S. Saint Barnabas performed 337 kidney transplants last year, nearly half (162) of which came from living donors.
In 2017, 45 of the 162 living donor transplants were the direct result of paired donations.
“We built this program to endure and to be stable,” Mulgaonkar said. “Every step we’ve taken has been to build upon the solid foundation we started years ago to continually improve the program, grow the opportunities of transplant, and increase patients’ chances of survival.”
Saint Barnabas’ education tactics, outreach and partnerships have enabled it to increase its database through such partners as the New Jersey Sharing Network, where Glennon attended a living donor symposium two years ago. There, he learned about the whole process and inspired him to become an altruistic donor.
"I was back on my bike in four weeks," Glennon said, "and in six weeks, I would say I was back to my normal self."
Earlier this month, Saint Barnabas celebrated 15 links of the chain that so far includes 15 donors, including a couple from West Orange, and 15 recipients. Glennon and 21 of the 30 kidney chain participants gathered, and a number of recipients met their donors for the first time that day.
"With living donation," Glennon said, "I think the beauty of it is that it not only benefits the organ recipient, but it benefits the organ donor. My life feels more complete."