Chicago Nurse Hopes 3D Printed Kidneys Will Save Her

Darvece Monson

*I know what you’re thinking and I agree: She doesn’t even look sick. 

But she is.

Darvece Monson admits she has tried everything to secure a new kidney with no luck. And with the traditional options looking so bleak, she is willing to look at alternatives.

For the past year, three days a week, six-hours per day, Monson has been on hemodialysis; a treatment endured by 35 percent of Black Americans in the U. S. But the mother of an 8-year-old says that it was actually the treatments that made her hopeful about potentially getting a 3D printed kidney, which would reduce the waiting time on lists that currently hold approximately 25,000 out of 70,000 people (of all races) to weeks rather than years. This, in addition to the possibility that her body may actually reject the organ, which is a major concern in organ transplants.

“It is a blessing that I am in Chicago, African-American and female; that also is my curse,” Monson chuckles.

“Doctors want to match a donor from a similar body type,” says Monson, who thinks her small athletic frame may actually be a hindrance. “There aren’t a lot of women who are the same and donating,” she adds.

Yolanda Becker, director of Kidney and Pancreas Program at University of Chicago Medical Center and vice president of the United Network of Organ Sharing, says the small potential donor pool is even smaller since people who are obese, diabetic or have high blood pressure are ruled out as donors. “We just don’t have enough (live) kidneys to go around,” Becker says.

She adds that despite the promise of 3D printing, the wait for people like Monson might not be significantly shorter; due to obstacles in the process such as the cost of the machine (which is estimated to be in the $850,000 range); training for the physicians, and the undeniable fact that “science hasn’t caught up with the technology.”

Washington, D.C.-based urologist Phillip Proctor agrees that extensive training for doctors would be required for the 3D printed kidney transplant to be successful. The technology regarding transplantation is in its early stages and hasn’t been vigorously tested. “[With regard to] anything new, the biggest issue is to look at numbers—and successes and failures,” Proctor says.

He adds that current transplant methods are “the gold standard,” and any new technology or procedures must prove to be better.

Monson is on waiting lists in two different states: Illinois and Wisconsin. And although the renowned University of Chicago Medicine Center has a reputation of being one of the world’s best for transplants, it will still take Monson seven years to be at the top of the list there.

Wisconsin’s wait is significantly shorter with Monson possibly receiving a new kidney in about three years.

“Donors sometimes get hung up on finding the perfect match,” says Monson, whose family members have been tested unsuccessfully.

“That doesn’t matter,” says the optimistic beauty. “Just be willing,” she urges.

Routing for you, Darvece!

To learn more about organ donorship, or to sign up to be a donor yourself, go here.

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