Virtual platform benefits kidney transplant patients

“I have been on dialysis for 15 years and six months,” said Leona Dawkins-Derrico. 

The 51-year-old mother is one of the 600,000 Americans with end-stage kidney disease. Dialysis may have saved her life, but it cannot be a permanent solution to her health condition. 

Dialysis treatments are very disruptive to a person’s life, according to Kelly Thames, a registered nurse and a transplant coordinator at the Medical University of South Carolina. Dialysis requires a person to be hooked up to a machine for four hours a day, three days a week while the machine acts as an artificial kidney that removes toxins from the blood. 

“People really need hope to know that that is not your only option,” Thames said. “You can get transplanted and live a normal life.” 

Thames is helping to coordinate Derrico’s kidney transplant. They met several times using a video conference instead of meeting in person. Connecting virtually has been much more convenient for Derrico, who lives in Washington, Georgia, which is 200 miles away from MUSC’s Transplant Center located in Charleston, South Carolina. 

Telehealth has simplified the process for Derrico and other patients hopeful to be added to the transplant wait list. 

“It’s convenient for patients and we find that the no show rates are much lower,” said Dr. Derek Dubay, director of abdominal transplant surgery at MUSC. “More importantly it really levels the playing field and we found that we have a lot more people that would normally struggle to make it to Charleston up front but they can get on for a virtual appointment.”

Dubay added that the telehealth approach has sped up the process for people who are completing the testing required to be considered for the transplant waiting list. 

For Derrico, the telehealth consults have saved her from worrying about who will drive her to Charleston, and finding a hotel for each visit. She said it felt “overwhelming” to hear that she was accepted onto the kidney transplant list. 

“I can live again,” Derrico said. “I’ve always been living, but I can really adjust to living the new me.”