Guest Commentaries

Whatcom could be first to eliminate kidney waitlist

Gift of life: Let's make it our moonshot
April 7, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.

By William E. Lombard, MD, Guest Writer

Dialysis patients are inherently vulnerable. Chronic kidney failure (CKF) was once a fatal disease, in every single case.

In 1960, a physician at the University of Washington, Belding Scribner, developed the Scribner shunt. The device was revolutionary because it made long-term, repeated dialysis possible. CKF was no longer a death sentence.

The following year, with the help of community partners and funding from national and local sources, Dr. Scribner established a nonprofit outpatient dialysis center in Seattle, which became Northwest Kidney Centers, the world's first out-of-hospital dialysis provider.

Our Pacific Northwest region has a history of innovation in kidney research and dialysis with a legacy of mission-driven care for individuals with CKF. Access to dialysis is essential to high-quality treatment for people with end-stage renal disease. But, the best treatment option for many patients is a kidney transplant from a living donor.

Countries that successfully increase their rate of living kidney donation will decrease their reliance on dialysis, which is the most expensive and high-risk form of kidney replacement therapy.

An organization in Israel, Matnat Chaim (“gift of life” in Hebrew), encourages individuals who are found suitable, to make an altruistic, voluntary living kidney donation. Their sole motive is a desire to help others and to save lives. One of their goals is to eliminate a kidney transplant waiting list in their country, which in the United States is typically three to six years.

As a nephrologist (kidney doctor), who treated critically ill patients for decades, I believe Whatcom County could be the first region in the U.S. to eliminate a waiting list for a kidney transplant. With the will to accomplish that, there is no reason it cannot be done. Think of it as our “giant leap,” our moonshot. We could serve as a model for kidney transplantation for other communities worldwide, just as Matnat Chaim is doing.

More than 90,000 people in the U.S. are on a national transplant waiting list for a donor's kidney. We must strengthen our education and awareness programs about renal disease and its under-detected progression so that we can decrease the high burdens on patients, families, the health care system and society.

April is National Donate Life Month, with April 5 being Living Donor Day. Today, we start the clock for our moonshot with stories from those who selflessly stepped up to “share their spare” kidney, whether it was for a loved one, a friend, or a stranger.

Longtime Bellingham resident Malcolm H. Oliver, who is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, No. 9 of 10 siblings, had no second thoughts when his older sister, Judy, needed a kidney. He was not only a match, but the medical team in Miami where she would have her transplant said he was a “perfect match ... like you are twins!”

Oliver donated his kidney 19 years ago and remains in remarkably good health. Judy had 14 additional years of life and love with his spare kidney but died from a condition unrelated to kidney disease. 

“If I could, I'd do it all over again because it was just the right thing to do,” he said. “It was one of the best experiences I have ever had. I was elated that Judy was going to be alright, that she was in God's hands and the transplant team's hands.”

Oliver offered some basic advice to other donors and potential donors: share your stories, reassure others and meet with your primary care provider to monitor your health post-procedure.

Helene Fellows, a registered nurse, and mother of two college-age kids, often jokes she is a procrastinator. For years before her 16th birthday, she recalls she couldn't wait to “tick” the box on her driver's license application agreeing to be an organ donor.

Fast forward several decades: her husband was diagnosed with Alport syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by progressive kidney disease and abnormalities of the inner ear and the eye. Arthur needed a kidney transplant. She was a match. Fellows laughed, “What a stroke of luck that I procrastinated and hadn't donated my kidney yet!”

On April 24, 2017, Arthur received the gift of her spare kidney. Fellows said, “Being a living kidney donor is a life-affirming, yet humbling experience. I did the right thing for me and my family. Ultimately, I saved his life for our kids,” adding, “I would have given my kidney to anyone, we just got lucky it worked out the way it did. Being a donor is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done.”

Fellows, an extraordinary “kidney champion,” will talk with anyone who is considering becoming a living donor. If you have questions, contact her at

Learn more about living kidney donation at

Let's shoot for the moon.

The writer is a retired nephrologist and past medical director of the Mt. Baker Kidney Center, who volunteers at the Mount Baker Foundation.

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