Jason Lang knew he would need a kidney transplant at some point in his life.
“Did I think it was going to be at 46? No,” he said.
His family had a history of polycystic kidneys, with his dad having a similar condition.
Last year, Lang went in for a consultation.
“They let me know that due to my size, due to my weight, due to my BMI, a traditional form of kidney transplant was doable,” he explained.
However, he would be at risk for complications if he didn’t lose weight.
“Losing weight was hard because I didn't have the energy,” he said.
“We estimate probably 25% of the general population is morbidly obese and wouldn't qualify for transplant given the traditional BMI cutoffs,” Dr. Thomas Pshak with the UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital Transplant Center, said.
That’s where robotic kidney transplants come in, a newer procedure. In fact, Lang was Dr. Pshak’s first patient in November 2021. This procedure allows for fewer complications, especially in those who are overweight.
That’s because extra layers of fat make kidney transplant surgery difficult to perform. The robot can see 10 times the human eye and operate with more precision.
“The robot machine itself is quite large but the arms are very tiny. They’re about the size of a pencil,” Dr. Pshak said. “The movements of the robotic arms are the same as a surgeon's hands.”
So far, Dr. Pshak and his team have done a handful of surgeries this way. He said UCHealth is just one of less than a dozen facilities he knows of across the U.S. currently offering it.
David Klassen with the United Network for Organ Sharing said advancements like this can help drastically.
“These minimally invasive techniques clearly allow more people to be transplanted but also I think improve outcomes,” Dr. David Klassen, the chief medical officer at UNOS, said.
This includes better pain management, fewer complications, and shorter hospital stays.
“It was incredible, the amount of difference between what he went through and what I went through,” Lisa Matlock, Lang’s significant other and kidney donor, said.
She was there after his surgery, recovering from her own in the same facility.
“He didn't look like he was in a significant amount of pain. I couldn't believe how fast he was moving. Because at that point, it was difficult for me to sit up in bed and I was on the drip line for painkillers,” she said.
Lang hopes his positive experience with this newer procedure will benefit others.
“For me, it was hopeful that I can help someone else and hopeful I could help other people in my position. A little bit overweight, needing a kidney transplant and not needing to force themself to push himself to lose weight, all that stuff, which it's harder when you have no energy,” Lang said.
If you are interested in becoming an organ donor, you can register at registerme.org.