LITTLE ROCK - The Arkansas Kidney Disease Commission (AKDC) paid tribute to the courage, sacrifice and lives saved during the 2019 Chain of Life Awards presented Wednesday, April 3. AKDC hosts this event each year to honor living kidney donors from around the Natural State.
Fourteen of the more than 100,000 Americans on the national kidney transplant list die each day without the lifesaving surgery. That is why living donors provide the best hope for those waiting. Instead of waiting for an organ donation from a deceased donor, living donors are available when the patient is ready for the transplant. In addition to availability, transplanted organs from living donors increase the survival of the donor organ with fewer complications reported.
In recognition of the selfless sacrifice, the Arkansas legislature has created the Chain of Life Awards to honor donors, celebrate organ recipients, and create a platform for their inspiring stories.
According to Lynn Franquemont, Director of Community Service Programs for Arkansas Rehabilitative Services, the awards celebrate the lives saved, as well as the courage of those donating their kidneys. “The honored are those who have made a living kidney donation to a current resident of the state, typically someone that they know well, a spouse, cousin, friend, etc.,” said Franquemont.
One such award was presented to Madison Willis for her kidney donation to her sister Lauren. Willis watched her sister get progressively weaker from the age of 7 until she was approved for a transplant when she was 19. Willis, a junior at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, had been committed to saving her sister’s life for many years and was thrilled when she turned out to be a donor match. After finishing her college finals for the semester, Willis headed home, and both sisters had surgery December 26, 2018.
“Sometimes I have to remind myself what I did because I feel so normal, but when I look at Lauren and see how far she has come, I remember what we went through together,” said Willis. “I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to save her.”
Willis’ father was on hand to see his daughter recognized for her donation. “She’s my hero,” said Doug Willis. “She saved her little sister’s life. She is amazing. She came home from college to donate her kidney and then three weeks later she was back to school and work.”
The Willis’ story is not unique as one by one living donors received recognition for their compassion and charity and told stories of family, love, and dedication. Some were family members, a spouse, or friends, but all had the same resounding conviction—they are glad they donated. Their reward is seeing their loved one healthy and whole.
In addition to recognizing living donors, AKDC presented the Bob Abbott Distinguished Service Award to Dr. Prajwal Chevireddy, Medical Director of East Little Rock Dialysis. Commended for his contribution to the kidney patient community in Arkansas, Chevireddy's staff and co-workers nominated him for his compassionate, conscience care of his patients and his steady, inspiring leadership in the medical community.