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Atlanta Braves and local foundations step up to the plate to raise awareness of living organ donation
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Janet Christenbury
Dr. Badell, Senator John Albers, Will Albers, Dr. Cristea

(L to R) Dr. Raul Badell, Senator John Albers, Will Albers and Dr. Octav Cristea attended a living organ donation awareness event hosted by the Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Braves Foundation.

An Emory kidney transplant donor and recipient pair and their respective Emory Healthcare transplant surgeons were honored recently to raise awareness of the importance of living organ donation during Donate Life Month.

The Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Braves Foundation hosted the Living Liver Foundation and the Georgia Transplant Foundation on April 25 at Truist Park to promote awareness of living organ donation. State senator John Albers (R-Roswell) and his son Will Albers were recognized at the event, following Sen. Albers’ donation of a kidney to his son in 2021.

Just 24 years old, the younger Albers had been losing both weight and hair and experiencing body cramps for several months during the early part of 2020. When he sought care, he was diagnosed with kidney failure and started dialysis to remove waste products and extra fluid from his blood, since his kidneys were no longer able to perform those tasks. In December 2020, it was determined Will Albers would need a kidney transplant. After multiple evaluations and tests, Sen. Albers learned he was a match for his son. In July 2021, both Albers were admitted to Emory University Hospital, where Sen. Albers donated the gift of life to Will.

“When I learned my dad was a match, I initially said ‘no’ to receiving his kidney, because I thought he would be placed on a restrictive diet for having just one kidney,” says Will Albers. “But I soon realized that was not the case. I am so grateful to him for donating a kidney to me. When I woke up after surgery, I was amazed at how much better I felt.”

“Kidney transplantation can dramatically improve a patient’s quality of life, in large part by eliminating their reliance on dialysis,” says Octav Cristea, MD, assistant professor of surgery in the Division of Transplantation, Emory University School of Medicine, and Will Albers’ transplant surgeon. “Many patients often report significantly increased energy levels following transplant, even as they recover from surgery. Kidneys from living donors offer the best chance for long term success and have the added benefit of reducing the wait time for the recipient, which might otherwise be measured in years.” 

At the Braves event, living organ donors, their recipients and transplant teams were recognized and honored.

We are joining the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Braves Foundation to honor living organ donors and the transplant medical professionals that made it possible, while building awareness of the miracle of living organ donation,” says David Galbenski, co-founder of the Living Liver Foundation. “The event also provided an opportunity for members of the transplant community to celebrate life while watching America’s favorite past-time and team, the Atlanta Braves.”

Following the donation of one of his kidneys to his son, Sen. Albers sponsored the Giving the Gift of Life Act, which protects potential living organ donors from losing their life insurance coverage, as well as increases the tax deduction available for living organ donation. That bill, known as House Bill 275, was officially signed into law in Georgia in 2022 by Governor Brian Kemp.

“We want to encourage states to pass the Giving the Gift of Life Act in every state to assist in more living organ donations,” says Sen. Albers. “Currently, there are more than 100,000 people in the U.S. on the wait list to receive organ transplants. We want to continue to help save lives by supporting living organ donation.”

Sen. Albers is also lobbying U.S. Congress to pass the Living Donor Protection Act to protect living donors from denial of insurance coverage, higher health insurance premiums and job loss.

In Georgia alone, there are more than 3,000 people currently waiting for organ transplants, with nearly 2,700 of them waiting specifically on kidney transplants, according to the Organ Procurement & Transplantation Network.

“Any opportunity to promote the importance of organ donation, and in particular, living organ donation, is a chance to save another life,” says I. Raul Badell, MD, associate professor of surgery, Division of Transplantation at Emory, and Sen. Albers’ surgeon who removed his kidney for transplantation. “We cannot do our jobs without the many donors and their families who are willing to selflessly give of themselves to help others.”

Emory Transplant Center team members also attended the Atlanta Braves game in support of living organ donation night, and to watch the home team take on the Miami Marlins and win.

Galbenski will host the next Living Donor Awareness Game on July 19, 2023, at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio in collaboration with LifeCenter Organ Donor Network to continue to increase awareness of living organ donation.

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