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Two-Time Kidney Transplant Recipient Goes for Gold in Sports, Life

Michelle A. Josephson, MD with patient Mike Henderson and nurse Roseann Sweda
Left to Right: Michelle A. Josephson, MD, patient Mike Henderson, Roseann Sweda, RN

For Mike Henderson, being a two-time kidney transplant recipient, has affected his physical health, career choice and leisure time in what Henderson calls his "wonderful journey."

In 1992, Henderson was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a disease in which scar tissue forms in parts of the kidney called glomeruli, explained Michelle A. Josephson, MD, professor of medicine and medical director of kidney transplant at the University of Chicago, and Henderson's nephrologist. Each kidney contains thousands of glomeruli, which serve as filters that help the body eliminate unnecessary or harmful substances. In FSGS, some of the glomeruli become scarred or "sclerosed."

For three and a half years, Henderson was treated with medications. Typically, patients with FSGS are given high doses of steroids, diuretics and other drugs to reduce the symptoms as well as preserve kidney or renal function. "These treatments can slow the progression of the disease, but in general, these patients do progress to renal failure," said Josephson.

In 1995, after Henderson went into end-stage renal failure, he began dialysis. Approximately one year later, Henderson's oldest brother, Ted, donated a kidney. The transplant surgery was performed at University of Chicago's hospital.

Both Henderson and his brother rallied back from the transplant surgery within a few months. Henderson resumed his active lifestyle, and even joined a basketball team nicknamed Spare Parts, whose players are transplant recipients. For several years, they played in three-on-three tournaments in local communities in an effort to promote organ donation and show that transplant recipients can live active lives. Members of Spare Parts also comprise the basketball team representing Illinois in the National Kidney Foundation's Transplant Games, an Olympic-style event for athletes who have received life-saving organ transplants.

Life returned to normal for Henderson, until six years later, when FSGS attacked the transplanted kidney, causing it to fail. The reported likelihood of the disease recurring after a transplant is 20 percent, but is likely even higher, said Josephson.

But before Henderson started dialysis again, another brother, Ron, donated a kidney. The second transplant was performed on our medical campus in 2004 by J. Richard Thistlethwaite, MD, PhD, professor of surgery and immunology and president of the Medical Staff.

The likelihood of the FSGS recurring in a second transplanted kidney when the first was lost to recurrent FSGS very high, on the order of more than 80 percent, said Josephson. "So far, Mike has beaten the odds on FSGS the second time around," she added.

Henderson, now 44, also has gone on to beat many of his fellow athletes in the U.S. Transplant Games. At the games held in the summer of 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin, he won one gold medal in the men's long jump, two silver medals in three-on-three basketball and the men's softball throw, and two bronze medals in the men's high jump and volleyball. In total, Henderson has won eight gold, three silver and three bronze medals.

"Winning the medals is confirmation that I'm doing a good job of taking care of the gift that has been donated to me," he said. "But I receive the most gratification simply participating in the games. It helps to rejuvenate me personally and professionally."

"Mike is a role model because he is showing people that just because you have a kidney transplant doesn't mean that you can't have a full life and accomplish many things," said Roseann Sweda, RN, a post-kidney transplant nurse in the surgery department.

Henderson's life is even fuller these days as he recently became engaged. The wedding is set for next summer in Jamaica.

May 2011

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