In May 2019, Baohong Sun, of Mequon, was visiting loved ones in China when she received a phone call that every parent dreads. Her son, David Liu, then 27, was in the intensive care unit of a hospital in San Diego, where he lived. He’d gone to the hospital because co-workers noticed his face looked swollen and urged him to get checked. To his family’s shock, doctors diagnosed David with end-stage kidney failure, likely caused by high blood pressure.
After he was discharged, David began peritoneal dialysis, a procedure that performs the blood-altering functions of the kidneys.
Patients can do this form of dialysis themselves, at home. But the process is time-consuming and patients can feel depleted by it, so David moved back to Wisconsin to live with his mother. He transferred his care to physicians at Froedtert Hospital, the academic medical center of the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network. He was familiar with the health network, in part, because his mother works at MCW. Also, his nephrologist (kidney doctor) in San Diego completed a fellowship at MCW and encouraged David to see his mentor there, nephrologist and MCW faculty member Ehab Saad, MD.
“He’s one of the best in Milwaukee,” David said. “It was like I’d hit the jackpot.”
Dr. Saad said one of his passions is helping patients on dialysis live well. But David was so young and so sick that Dr. Saad immediately began to discuss the possibility of a kidney transplant, recommending that he go on the national transplant waiting list. Nearly 100,000 people in the United States are currently waiting for a kidney. Because the wait can be long, Dr. Saad also broached the topic of finding a living donor. Most people are born with two kidneys but can safely live with one, allowing some people to donate a kidney.
Support for Living Kidney Donors
Baohong was eager to be evaluated as a possible live donor for her son. “As a mom, I just want to give everything to him,” she said. The Froedtert & MCW transplant team takes care to ensure an especially safe process for living donors.
“In the practice of medicine, we have an ethical and moral obligation to ‘do no harm,’ and we double down on that when it comes to a living donor,” Dr. Saad said.
Potential donors are assigned an independent living donor advocate who shares information about the donation process and provides support throughout the evaluation process. Potential donors are also cared for by a multidisciplinary team that includes a transplant nephrologist, transplant surgeon, dietitian, pharmacist, social worker, financial liaison and a living donor coordinator. Baohong had blood tests and imaging studies to determine if she was a good match.
Receiving a Call of Welcome News
In late December 2020, Baohong received a phone call from the transplant coordinator with joyous news — she was indeed a good match for David, and transplant surgery could proceed.
“I cannot describe how happy I was,” Baohong said. “It was a wonderful Christmas gift for my heart.”
The transplant surgery took place in January 2021 at Froedtert Hospital. The process was timed carefully. Transplant surgeon and MCW faculty member Joohyun Kim, MD, PhD, began surgery on David in one operating room, preparing his body to receive the new kidney. Simultaneously, another team member started Baohong’s surgery next door. Once the healthy kidney was removed from her body, it was carefully packaged and quickly carried to David’s team to be placed in his abdomen.
When David woke up from surgery, he immediately felt better. He had more energy and mental clarity than he’d had in years. Baohong also did well.
Her recovery took a little longer, as expected, given that her body needed to adjust to living with one kidney. Baohong said she was sore immediately after the surgery but felt fully recovered when she returned to work six weeks later. Donors in Wisconsin are provided leave by their employers for the purpose of donating bone marrow or an organ, through Assembly Bill 752.
Living Kidney Donors- A Real Gift
David is followed closely by Froedtert & MCW physicians, care that will continue throughout his life. He’s exercising again, something that felt impossible when he was so sick. And Baohong loves seeing her son feeling like himself again.
Dr. Saad was particularly moved by David and Baohong.
“In this situation,” he said, “David’s mother gave him the gift of life twice — the day she gave birth to him and the day she donated a kidney to him.”
Become a Living Organ Donor
Living donor kidney donation can be a quicker option for transplant. Learn more about this lifesaving approach on our Living Kidney Donor Program page.