PORTLAND, Maine – Aji Djamali, MD, Maine Medical Center’s Chair of the Department of Medicine recently donated his kidney to a former patient at the UW Health Transplant Center (UW Health) in Madison, Wisconsin. Djamali, who was a professor of medicine and surgery and transplant nephrologist leading the division of nephrology at UW Health, is making his donation public to inspire others to give the gift of life.
“Ever since I was in medical school studying nephrology, I have wanted to walk the walk and make a difference in the life of someone with kidney disease,” Djamali said. “Living kidney donation saves lives, and I hope my experience serves as an example for others in my new state of Maine and across the country.”Djamali first met his recipient, John Jartz of Wisconsin, in 2015 when Jartz was his patient. Jartz has polycystic kidney disease (PKD), an inherited disorder in which clusters of cysts on the kidneys cause them to enlarge and eventually stop working. Djamali treated Jartz for two years, and the two men discovered that they had a lot in common. They became friends, and Djamali referred Jartz to Gauri Ghutani, MD, a nephrologist who specializes in PKD.
Eventually, Jartz was told it was time for him to get a kidney transplant and began looking for a donor. Djamali had been wanting to donate a kidney for more than 20 years because he knows the impact that living donation has on the lives of patients waiting for a donor. Kidneys from living donors typically last far longer than those from deceased donors, and after a recovery period, both donors and recipients are able to live full, active lives. Years ago, Djamali’s wife had asked him to wait until their three children were grown before he donated. With all three children now out of the house, the time was right.
“I had other people offer to donate a kidney, but when Aji told me he was being evaluated to donate to me, I was completely overwhelmed,” said Jartz. “We have such a close bond, but I was literally speechless.”
Djamali, who has the same rare type B blood type as Jartz, learned he was also a near perfect match in 2021, just as he was moving to Maine to chair the Department of Medicine at Maine Medical Center (MMC).
“I have always admired kidney donors for sharing the gift of life,” Djamali said. “Now that I have had the privilege to be a donor, I encourage anyone who is healthy and interested to learn more about living donation.”
The need for life-saving organ donors continues to grow both in Maine and across the country. More than 240 people are currently waiting for a kidney transplant in Maine, a number that has more than doubled during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients typically wait more than five years for a kidney.
“There is no substitute for living donation when it comes to the health of our recipients,” said Juan Palma, MD, the director of living donation at the Maine Transplant Program. “A healthy body and a willingness to donate are all you need to explore whether becoming a living donor is right for you.”
Living donors do not need to have the same blood type as their intended recipient. The Maine Transplant Program continues to take steps to remove barriers to living kidney donation and actively participates in the National Kidney Registry, where recipients and donors from across the country are matched with each other. Living kidney donors can also donate in advance for a family member who may need a kidney transplant in the future, or donate to create a “voucher” for a recipient they are not compatible with. The voucher allows the recipient to receive a kidney from a donor within the Registry.
Note to reporters/editors:
- You can download a video package of raw interviews from UW Health here.
- B-roll from UW Health is available here.
- You can download photos of Dr. Djamali and John Jartz here.
- Credit for all photos and videos: UW Health
About Maine Medical Center
Maine Medical Center (MMC), recognized as a Best Regional Hospital by U.S. News and World Report for 2021-2022, is a complete health care resource for the people of Greater Portland and the entire state, as well as northern New England. Incorporated in 1868, MMC is the state’s largest medical center, licensed for 700 beds and employing more than 9,600 people. MMC's unique role as both a community hospital and a referral center requires an unparalleled depth and breadth of services, including an active educational program and a world-class biomedical research center. As a nonprofit institution, Maine Medical Center provides nearly 23 percent of all the charity care delivered in Maine. MMC is part of the MaineHealth system, a growing family of health care services in northern New England. For more information, visit www.mmc.org.