Brett Ehrmann is currently on a 100,000 person waiting list for a kidney, hoping someone will be able to provide the gift of life.
By Joyce Wiswell
Featured photo courtesy of the Ehrmann family
When a fellow physician asked Brett Ehrmann if his failing kidneys made him less sympathetic to patients with relatively minor woes, he quickly realized he views it differently.
“It is actually the opposite — everyone has their own crosses to bear and I have been able to relate to people better because of my experience,” said the West Bloomfield native, who practices medicine and instructs at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York.
Ehrmann, 31, was in middle school when his mother, Robin, was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease. But since there was little to be done about the genetic condition at the time, he decided to wait until he was in medical school to find out for sure.
“I had been prepared for the diagnosis, so it was more of a confirmation; but it was a still whirlwind of emotions. I knew what my mom had been through,” he said. “Since it is genetic, it is going to progress how it will progress and, in my experience, it is wasted energy to focus on things I can’t control.”
And energy is not something he has a lot to spare; as the disease progresses, Ehrmann’s chief symptom is a lack of energy.
Now he and his family, including parents, Robin (who received a transplant from a living donor 16 years ago) and Paul Ehrmann of West Bloomfield (both physicians and members of Congregation B’nai Moshe), are hoping to find a person willing to give a kidney in a living donor procedure.
The waiting list for a kidney from a deceased donor has more than 100,000 people on it, which translates to at least five years. And a living kidney donation generally lasts longer and functions better.
The alternative would be dialysis, a grueling process that is usually three days a week for four hours at a time.
“It would certainly help my kidneys do their job and keep me alive, but it is associated with a high risk of complications and poor long-term results,” Ehrmann explained in an email he’s circulated to friends and family. “A transplant would offer me much more freedom and the ability to live a longer, healthier, more normal life.”
More than 50,000 people have given a kidney as a living donor, according to the National Kidney Registry.
“Donating a kidney not only helps the person who receives the kidney, but also shortens the deceased donor wait list, helping others get a deceased donor kidney sooner,” says the groups’ website (kidneyregistry.org). “Also, all living donors are awarded points for their donation so if they ever need a kidney later in life, they will be given priority on the deceased donor list.”
People need only one of their two kidneys to live a long, healthy life. Most donor surgery is done laparoscopically through a tiny incision near the belly button, has a very small risk of complications and requires about two weeks of recuperation. Medical costs are covered by the recipient’s insurance.
It is unclear at this time if Brett’s brothers, Daniel and Zachary, are suitable donors.
“We want to keep the word out,” noted Paul Ehrmann, who practices family medicine in Royal Oak. “The idea of an organ donation is such a mitzvah and such a wonderful thing someone could do for another human.”
Learn more about the living donor process, which begins with a blood test to determine a match, at cornell.donorscreen.org.