Athletic director donates kidney, hopes message spreads
WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Jon Winer didn’t know anybody in particular who needed a kidney. But he decided to donate one of his anyway.
Winer, the athletic director for the Capitol Region Education Council magnet schools, was listening to a podcast one day last year about altruistic kidney donation and was intrigued and moved. He decided to look more into it; he picked up the phone and called Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, who had donated a kidney altruistically in August 2016.
“A lot of it is — I try to preach it to my student-athletes and I want to preach it to my son when he gets old enough — you put yourself in somebody else’s shoes,” Winer said. “I had a very close friend of mine pass away a year and a half ago from esophageal cancer. Within six months, he was diagnosed and gone. He had two young kids and he was one of my closest friends. Just like that your health can change. I’m blessed where I can be in a position to do something like this.”
Drew talked to him. Winer called Yale New Haven Health, where Drew had donated his kidney. He was screened and put through an extensive battery of tests to see if he met the criteria and if it was safe for him to donate.
He underwent surgery Nov. 28. His left kidney went to a woman as part of donor exchange program, in which eventually five people who needed kidneys would receive them.
He was back to work part-time the next week, full-time the following week. He didn’t tell a lot of people about it. But then he decided that he should, to spread the word, to educate people about kidney donation.
“It’s funny, I kind of hesitated to reach out to you,” he said. “A lot of people in the office don’t know. I probably only told a handful of people. The reason is, I’m not looking for a pat on the back, but at the same time, I talked to Joyce (Albert, the Yale New Haven transplant coordinator), I talked to Dan Drew, and we’re all of the same mindset, we want to get the education out there.
“People give blood all the time. I understand giving your kidney is different than giving blood. But at the same time, I really truly believe if people knew more about the process. . The first time, the few people I have told, I say that’s why I was out, they really look at you like it’s a crazy thing to do. But then when you talk to them, you say, here’s the data...”
Winer, 37, is a healthy person. A former college basketball player at Clark University, he coached at Becker College and Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester and Lehigh as an assistant before coming to CREC to start the athletic program five years ago.
Still, he had to go through a battery of testing before being approved. He was initially screened over the phone, then called into Yale for bloodwork and other medical tests. Then he went to an information session, where he was told what the surgery is like and what the long-term risks were. His case was put before a donor advocacy board for further screening.
“If you’re accepted into the surgery, then you’re a healthy person,” Winer said. “They say 1 in 300 people who have this surgery have renal disease down the road, which is similar to the American average. And if that does happen, you’re at the top of the list for a transplant because you donated.”
Living donors make for more successful matches than deceased donors. And a donor doesn’t have to be a match for a specific person. Say you wanted to donate a kidney to your brother or sister but you weren’t a match, and someone like Winer was, you could donate your kidney to someone else you matched up with and someone like Winer would donate his kidney to your sister or brother.
That’s how four people got kidneys in Winer’s donation chain. One more person, part of the chain, is still waiting to donate a kidney.
“The exchange program, it’s really taken off in the last four years,” Albert said. “We’re doing great with that. It’s helping so many people that are so hard to transplant.”
Albert said that Yale did 66 kidney transplants last year and about six or seven were altruistic donors.
“A few years ago, we had only one or two,” Albert said. “Now with social media, people reaching out, more and more people call to do that.
“Six or seven got approved — more than that called, but they don’t pass the screening. They have to meet certain criteria. Our first concern is always for the living donor, for the rest of their lives. It’s not easy to pass the screening.”
Winer has an 11-month-old son and his wife Julia is pregnant again. He did not go into the surgery lightly.
“I did this because obviously it’s having a huge impact on somebody else and a small impact on me,” he said. “I’m extremely lucky to have my health. I very easily could be the person on the other side that’s 37 years old with two kids and then find out I have to go to dialysis. That was one part of it.
“The other part is a big piece of our athletic program is community service where we’re trying to get the kids to think outside themselves. To be able to preach that, you really have to live it.”
Winer hasn’t met the woman to whom his kidney was donated but once the last donor in the chain donates, the recipients and donors will have a chance to meet each other if they like.
“If I meet her, it might become more real,” he said. “But obviously I feel really good about it.”
Information from: Hartford Courant, http://www.courant.com