Elizabeth Sanchez's older brother needs a kidney transplant, but when she found out he was one of the thousands on a waiting list, she volunteered to give him one of her own.

"I love him, so I don't think twice," said the Bakersfield resident.

What You Need To Know

  • Doctors at USC's Transplant Institute are working with would-be organ donors to improve their health so they can become eligible to donate

  • The two-year pilot program hopes to boost the number of available kidney and/or liver donors

  • Participants are given a wellness kit, including a scale, FitBit, personalized meal plan, and blood pressure monitor

  • Southern California has among the highest demand for kidney and liver transplants in the country

However, doctors said Sanchez needed to make some healthy lifestyle changes before she could donate. 

"I came back today to get retested and to get reevaluated, and hopefully, this time when my coordinator presents my case to the team, it gets approved," she said.

Transplant doctors at Keck Medicine of USC say they have noticed a pattern with potential living donors in recent years.

"Probably a good third of them can't donate because of certain health issues, and some of those issues may be modifiable," said Dr. Jim Kim, director of USC Transplant Institute's Kidney Transplant Program.

"We saw some donors with areas where they needed improvement — obesity, prediabetes or high blood pressure and these are all modifiable," said Susan Kim, a dietician and manager of the Living Donor Wellness Program.

USC's Transplant Institute decided to launch its Living Donor Wellness pilot program to help interested donors make lifestyle changes.

"We provided [Sanchez] with a wellness kit. She's got a blood pressure monitor. She's got a bathroom scale, a FitBit, a wellness journal, a sports bottle," Kim said.

Kim also met with Sanchez weekly and provided personalized meal plans. 

"She guided me through ways of reading food labels, which is something I didn't do much before, substitutions that I could make that were a better healthier choice," Sanchez said.

To be eligible, candidates must be 18 years or older, financially and psychologically suitable for organ donation, and medically determined that they have a fatty liver, prediabetes and/or metabolic syndrome — a condition that increases the risk of a heart attack, stroke and Type 2 diabetes.

"With this program that I started, I was able to lose an additional 10 pounds," Sanchez said.

Sanchez is now in the process of getting her case presented and hopefully approved by the transplant committee. 

"Being a part of this donor process is so exciting and rewarding for us to see their transformation, to see them reach their goals," Kim said. "It's really inspiring."

If all goes well, Sanchez said the transplant for her brother could happen by March.

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