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Blue Cross honors Mayo's kidney donor program

Prieto, Mikel, M.D..jpg
Dr. Mikel Prieto
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An innovative Mayo Clinic program that pairs kidney donors with needy transplant patients was recognized Tuesday by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota's new Trailblazer Tour.

It was one of 11 programs honored for its creative and forward-thinking methods, according to Blue Cross.

The thought process behind Mayo's new donor program is simple, but it has drawn high praise while being hailed as revolutionary.

Though friends and family often are willing to donate a kidney to loved ones in need, many aren't deemed a worthy match. Mayo has tapped into those feelings to create new matches that pairs willing donors with other patients who might otherwise wait years for a new kidney while on dialysis. The so-called donor chain opens the door to many more matches being found, greatly reducing the wait time that otherwise can take years and improving life expectancy.

It's been so successful that about 75 percent of kidney transplants done at Mayo's Rochester campus are coming from living donors, more than doubling the national average. Organs from live donors tend to lead to better outcomes with a chance of rejection near zero, according to Mayo Clinic.

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"Mayo Clinic Living Donor Program's pioneering Paired Donation Program is evolving how patients receive transplants – in turn, proving how innovative trailblazers can accelerate the pace of improving health across Minnesota," said Garrett Black, senior vice president of health services at Blue Cross. "By recognizing the Mayo Clinic Living Donor Program, we hope to start a meaningful conversation and engage communities like Rochester throughout the state to reach their full potential and work together to transform health care."

Mayo Clinic says the program is simply another step in the right direction for a nephrology program that's already ranked No. 1 in the country by U.S. News & World Report; the new annual rankings are expected to be released later this month.

"Most providers out there aren't thinking preemptively or upstream until that person faces dialysis," said Shannon Nelson, senior director of collaborative care and clinical innovation for health collaboration at Blue Cross. "We felt it would be ideal to create a program with Mayo Clinic where we identify these folks and start this conversation about kidney transplant long before dialysis."

The program has been so successful that it recently expanded in scope. For example, a 60-year-old father might be considered a donor match for his 20-year-old son — but Mayo has begun expanding its search, which begins far earlier than many health care facilities, in hopes of finding an even more compatible match.

Lynette Fox, Mayo Clinic's kidney transplant and living donor coordinator and nursing supervisor, said "educating and empowering patients is a huge piece of the puzzle in matching patients and donors." That includes a care team that coaches patients through the process, which now includes sharing personal stories on social media in hopes of finding a donor match.

Local officials have high hopes for the role social media might play in the years ahead.

"We think this could be a game changer in terms of a lot more people coming forward to say I'll help my friend or my neighbor or my Facebook friend," said Dr. Mikel Prieto, a transplant specialist at Mayo Clinic. "That may dramatically change the waiting time and the number of people who get transplants."

Blue Cross selected 11 programs to recognize through the Trailblazing Tour, with the honorees being announced periodically into September. Mayo's was the fifth program to be recognized. Northfield's main street project focused on sustainable farming was among the earlier honorees.

Related Topics: MAYO CLINIC
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