Kidney transplant

James Jones is grateful to be the recipient of UW Health's 12,000th kidney transplant

James Jones ringing the bell at UW Health

James Jones is full of gratitude these days—he knows just how fortunate he was to receive the gift of life with a new kidney.

And his transplant was extra-special: The Detroit, Michigan, man was the 12,000th kidney transplant recipient at UW Health. The health system’s first kidney transplant was in 1966, and in the 57 years since then, thousands of patients just like James have gone on to live healthy, happy lives.

In James’ case, he received his extraordinary gift from a complete stranger. The National Kidney Registry connects people from across the country, giving them an opportunity to be part of a kidney transplant chain. James was fortunate enough to be the last link in the chain.

He first learned he was sick on New Year’s Eve 2019. After waking up from a nap, he noticed his face was swollen, and the swelling wouldn’t go away when he took Benadryl. “I looked like I had been in the boxing ring with Mike Tyson,” he said.

Panicked, he called 911, and doctors in the local emergency room determined he was in irreversible stage 5 kidney failure. The fluid in his face was the buildup from his kidneys, which weren’t working properly. He would need to start dialysis right away and begin the process of joining the wait list for a kidney transplant.

James was initially resistant to dialysis because a family member had a bad experience with it, but he consented and was glad he did. The dialysis gave him the time he needed while he waited for a new kidney. James started out on the wait list in Michigan at the beginning of 2021, but his doctor suggested he pursue a second listing at UW Health in Madison.

“I was finishing my dialysis treatment when I got the call,” he said. “I must have been looking spaced out because the tech asked if everything was OK. And I said, ‘Dude, I just got offered a kidney!’”

Because James was part of a living kidney donor chain, he was given the benefit of time. He and his fiancé, Christina, had a week to get their affairs in order before they traveled to Madison for his surgery in November of 2022. His transplant surgeon was Dr. Dixon Kaufman, director of the UW Health Transplant Center. “Both Dr. Kaufman and his staff were wonderful,” James said. “They helped me understand everything, and since I’ve been home, I’ve been telling anyone who’s dealing with kidney problems that they should go to UW Health for a transplant.”

James is now steadily recovering from his surgery, and when his doctors say he can get back to work, he’ll be ready. “I want this kidney transplant to be a one-time thing, and we rock it out,” he said.