Finding ‘Kidney Twins’ and Saving Lives
March 25th, 2018 by Chelsea Glanz

Kristie Lemmon, left, became a living kidney donor 25 years ago. She is pictured here at a school she raised funds for in Kenya, Africa.

For Kristie Lemmon, the lifesaving work of the nonprofit she runs is personal.
Kristie, who lost both of her parents to kidney failure and is a kidney donor, is executive director of the Alaska Kidney Patients Association.

Since 1999, the Anchorage-based nonprofit has helped kidney patients live happier, healthier lives.

“We’re focused on the whole spectrum,” Kristie says.

The organization’s services range from prevention and treatment education to free kidney screenings. But Kristie is most proud of the association’s work of pairing donors and patients with their “kidney twins.”

She says 150 Alaskans are waiting to receive a kidney transplant. Due to low donor rates, less than 25 percent are actually getting the help they need.

According to the AKPA website, only about 30 kidney patients a year actually receive transplants. That’s where AKPA comes in: working to pair healthy donors with patients.

Founded in 1999 by a group of dialysis patients banding together for support, AKPA grew to a small steering committee by 2002. It eventually evolved from a patient association funded by grants to the 501(c)(3) it is today.

Kristie has been with the AKPA since 2008, working to empower Alaskans to take charge of their own health by helping them better understand their risk and resources. Free kidney screenings are one of many ways the association accomplishes this.

“We usually see about 100 people come through these events,” Kristie says.
Patients who take advantage of the screenings receive free 15- to 30-minute clinical consultations, which many of them might not otherwise receive due to high out-of-pocket costs.

The association also hosts workshops focused on helping donors and recipients find their “kidney twin” while learning firsthand from patients who already have undergone transplants as recipients or donors.

In promoting an April 19 kidney donor workshop, the association emphasizes, “Conversations can save a life.” Kristie points to a recent success story where a simple conversation did just that.

While undergoing dialysis treatments at Providence Alaska Medical Center, Terri Teas ran into her friend Judie Wolfe. Their chance conversation resulted in a living kidney donation from Judie, which saved Terri’s life. Both women now enjoy healthy, active lives.

Kidney patients aren’t the only ones who benefit from AKPA’s events. As a donor herself, Kristie knows it’s just as important to provide living kidney donors with information and resources so they can live active, healthy lives.

AKPA’s upcoming Kidney Education Symposium on April 21 features classes such as, “Prevention with Foods” and “Taking Care of your Soul.” New to the symposium this year is an herbs class for those interested in using complementary and alternative methods to heal and prevent kidney disease.

Kristie is committed to providing credible, scientific information, and AKPA approaches kidney health from a holistic perspective.

“So many people don’t question medical advice,” Kristie says. “They’re sometimes afraid to become educated. We really want to help people learn that they can take charge of their health and that they have the final say.”

Kristie has devoted her life to helping patients exercise that freedom and regain confidence in their health.

“We’ve learned a lot over the years about what works well and where we need to focus more effort,” she says.

Kristie and AKPA are also strong supporters of the Living Donor Protection Act. Introduced in March 2017, the bill prohibits life and long term care insurers from discriminating based on an individual’s status as a living organ donor.

AKPA also encourages and facilitates national collaboration through the annual Transplant Games of America. Every year, Kristie’s team of 20 to 35 from Northwest Alaska, Oregon and Washington travel to Salt Lake City August 2-7 and compete with other donor families. The games feature sports competitions, such as rock climbing and bowling.

There is also a donor quilt program on display during the competition. Quilts are part of a pinning ceremony. The pinned quilt squares are later combined to create a final Transplant Games donor quilt that represents the games’ ultimate spirit of collaboration.

Kristie says the association relies heavily on volunteers, and is always looking for people to help and participate. When AKPA hosts a kidney screening, for example, up to 50 volunteers are needed.

“It’s really about people learning they’re part of a team,” Kristie says of AKPA’s mission.

To learn more about how you can become part of the AKPA team and help advocate for kidney patients’ health, visit www.alaskakidney.org/about. Learn more about the annual Transplant Games of America at www.transplantgamesofamerica.org/quiltbannermaking.html.