DaVita and Kidney Foundation aim to pair more donors to kidney patients—and teach them how to ask

Alan and his wife Aisha share Alan's successful search for a kidney in a video on the National Kidney Foundation site. (National Kidney Foundation)

Living kidney donors offer the best outcome for people with kidney failure. That's why DaVita Kidney Care and the National Kidney Foundation are launching "The Big Ask: The Big Give" to encourage people to consider kidney donation—and show patients how to ask.

The campaign teaches kidney patients and their families how to get the word out about their need for a living donor. It's not about directly asking people to donate, but rather giving patients tools so they feel more comfortable letting others know what's going on with them—which can lead to a donation.

“For some people, it's making sure that any groups that they're connected with know the story, whether it's community groups or social groups that they're connected to," Jennifer Martin, the National Kidney Foundation's vice president of program development, said.

“We had one person who came to one of our programs and afterwards, she told her book club that she needed a kidney transplant and somebody from her book club decided to donate to her," she said.

The participants, patients and potential donors are connected to a patient navigator who's been trained to help them through the process. A dedicated website details different ways to use resources and tools to create an action plan together.

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A private, online community allows patient navigators, foundation staff and even transplant center partners to get questions answered. For even more personalized support, a help line is staffed by healthcare professionals and foundation members.

It often takes several months just for patients to get comfortable sharing their story and casting a net for donors, Martin said, with the whole process typically lasting up to one year. And even if patients are lucky enough to have a potential donor volunteer, they still need to be tested for compatibility. Throughout the long process, however, the online community and help lines keep everything going.

Launching as a pilot program, the program aims to stagger 200 participants over the next year in four states: Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico and New York. The locations were chosen not only for their population diversity, but also because the National Kidney Foundation and DaVita both have strong partnerships with transplant centers in those areas.

“We're trying to get a mix of people from diverse groups, but we're hoping to reach at least 25% from communities of color because they are disproportionately impacted by kidney disease and kidney failure,” Martin said.

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Earlier this year, the National Kidney Foundation piloted a smaller 30-participant program, which grew out of an earlier version of the project that started a few years ago.

In a follow-up survey, the National Kidney Foundation found 67% said at least one person had offered to be evaluated as a living donor. Even more encouraging was that 18% said they’d received a living donor transplant—more than twice the 7% of waitlisted kidney patients who received a living donor transplant in 2019.

Because Martin is sure that finding people to enroll won’t be an issue, there’s no concerted media push yet. DaVita is spreading the word with its patients, and transplant center partners are also talking to people on the waiting list. Future plans include expanding the project to get as many people matched as possible.

DaVita is the largest provider of at-home dialysis in the U.S. and operates 2,827 outpatient centers nationwide. It also operates 323 outpatient dialysis centers in 10 countries globally.