Medical school student Jackson Baril has always wanted to help patients in need.
But this aspiring doctor went above and beyond when he donated his kidney to a stranger on June 7, 2016.
His procedure—called a non-directed donation—is the 100th of its kind performed at the University of Minnesota. University experts helped pioneer this type of surgery more than a decade ago and the University of Minnesota Health organ transplant program remains a national leader in both quantity of these procedures and non-direct kidney donation outcomes.
“So many patients across the nation have run out of options. Kidney transplants are their only hope for a second chance at life free from dialysis, and they rely on generous living donors like Jackson,” University of Minnesota Health Transplant Surgeon Ty Dunn, MD, said.
Baril was one of five donors at the University of Minnesota who selflessly gave their kidneys to strangers in the month leading up to the milestone. This surge in non-directed donations is unprecedented in the transplant community.
During his undergraduate studies, Baril took a tissue engineering class where he learned about the need for donated organs. Then, a news story piqued his interest.
“I would want a person to donate their kidney to me or my family if we needed a transplant,” said Baril. “So I wondered if I would be able to do that for someone I didn’t know.”
When he requested information at the age of 20, Baril did not meet the minimum donation age. But, after months of consideration, he returned to pursue donation at the age of 21. Though his family was skeptical at first, they soon realized the impact of the decision.
“My parents said I could be an altruist in other ways,” said Baril. “But I told them suffering somewhere isn’t a reason to ignore suffering elsewhere. I needed to help this person who was looking to someone like me for a second chance at life.”
Today, there are more than 100,000 patients around the nation waiting for a kidney transplant. On average, 13 patients waiting for a transplant die each day because they don’t have a donor or are unable to receive the life-saving donation.
“We’ve made great strides in the field of transplantation, but the intangible selflessness of living donation is beyond science. It’s amazing,” said Dunn.
In 1998, a woman approached the Living Kidney Donor program at the University of Minnesota, hoping to donate her kidney to someone—anyone—in need. Prior to this request, living kidney donation was reserved for those who already knew the recipient.
Knowing non-directed living donor organ donation could save more lives, University of Minnesota care teams worked with the patient, then developed a protocol for screening non-directed donors. This protocol paved the way for other institutions around the country. To date, 1,803 people across the nation have donated their kidneys to strangers.
Wait times are an ongoing issue for patients and can range from three to 10 years depending on the patient’s location and blood type. In 2010, Dunn and her colleagues at the university revised donation protocols so that patients could participate in kidney donation “chains,” which involve multiple donors and recipients—often across several states.
For David Grundman of St. Cloud, Minn., it was part of his calling. The 55-year-old priest, who was also one of the five recent donors, had seen the impact of kidney donation. Two years ago, a friend who was facing kidney failure received a deceased donor kidney. Grundman then realized he too could be someone’s lifeline.
“I believe it’s our duty to help those who are in need in our community,” said Grundman. “If I can save a life, I know others can too. It’s something I hope people will consider. The emotional reward is incredibly powerful.”