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Woman gives father gift of life with kidney transplant

The Baltimore Sun

It never crossed LaKebra Clark's mind that she'd donate one of her kidneys, let alone that it would go to her own father.

The eldest of three children, Clark had always been close to her dad, Gregory Bryant, 47, a salesman in an auto dealership. A year ago, he became ill with hypertension, and doctors diagnosed kidney disease.

Suddenly, it was time to help save his life.

On Dec. 30, which happened to be Clark's 27th birthday, her father called and said, " 'I need you to come through for me,' " she recalled. "So I did. I went into it as though God had asked me to give the kidney."

She was worried. "I'm not big on science, and I wondered how good a life am I going to live without one of my kidneys," said Clark, a high-school teaching assistant. "I just didn't know."

On April 9, the two lay side by side in an operating room at the University of Maryland Medical Center as Dr. Stephen Bartlett, the chief of surgery, used tiny laparoscopic tools to remove Clark's kidney and insert it into her father.

Yesterday, in a sunny atrium at the medical center, the two looked as if they had endured nothing worse than a visit to the dentist.

Clark is feeling so well that she plans to return to work today at the Baltimore Talent Development High School. Her dad was readmitted to the hospital on Friday so that doctors can treat "some slight rejection issues," he said, a common problem even in transplants involving close relatives.

"Even with minor setbacks, it beats dialysis 100 times," said Bryant, who hopes to be released from the hospital today.

Doctors there and at Johns Hopkins Hospital portrayed Clark and her father as emblematic of the ease with which many transplant operations are performed these days. They joined public health officials as they declared Baltimore the first city in the country to formally urge all municipal employees to become organ donors.

Baltimore's health commissioner, Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, said the city's campaign is a joint effort with the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland, which procures organ donations and is a licensed tissue bank.

Last year in Maryland, 600 transplant operations took place, but there are about 2,200 people in the state waiting for an organ and not nearly enough donors. Across the United States, some 98,000 people are hoping for transplanted organs such as hearts, lungs and livers.

In Clark's case, the surgeon made only four small incisions in her abdomen that left barely detectable scars, she said. She's using special cream to get rid of them. "You can't even tell," she said. "I can still wear a two-piece swimsuit."

Her father required more invasive work - and 51 staples to close his wound - but was driving his car 10 days after the operation. Such a quick recovery was impossible before the advent of minimally invasive surgical techniques.

"I encourage you to look out for your children, because you never know when you're going to need them," Bryant said, looking at his smiling daughter. "I gave her life and she gave me life back."


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