Fund helps cover living kidney donors’ expenses
By Stacey Bomser
Photography by Jack Robert
o one has a greater appreciation for the lifesaving work being done by the Living Kidney Donor Program at the Miami Transplant Institute (MTI) than Dr. Samuel Leder and his wife, Rhonnie Leder.
Fifteen years ago, Dr. Leder, a retired veterinarian, received a stranger’s kidney, and four years later, Rhonnie Leder donated one of hers to someone she had never met. Both transplant surgeries were done at MTI, which is operated jointly between UHealth – University of Miami Health System and the Jackson Health System.
A national leader, MTI performs more than 400 kidney transplants each year, with about a quarter of the organs coming from living donors. When a family member or friend is not a match, oftentimes complete strangers step up to donate. Nationwide statistics show the urgency: More than 90,000 people were waiting for kidneys in 2021, and but only 24,000 transplants were performed.
Understanding the importance and impact of living kidney donations, Rhonnie has become a strong proponent, often mentoring prospective donors. She also helped to establish UM’s Living Kidney Donor Program Fund to ease the financial burden placed on these altruistic individuals.
“When you donate an organ, your medical expenses are covered by the recipient’s insurance, but not your housing, travel, food, even pet care,” explained Rhonnie. “These people are helping save a life. They should not go into debt doing so.”
To mark the 15th anniversary of Dr. Leder’s kidney transplant, his friends and family, and those of his donor, made a significant donation to the fund.
“It’s illegal to pay someone to donate their organs, and the national financial assistance fund that exists has strict criteria,” said Giselle Guerra, M.D., medical director of the MTI. “Private philanthropy like that of the Leders helps us support donors with financial constraints that may otherwise impede them from being able to give the gift of life.”