Surviving kidney failure is a challenging and complex process for adults. But for small children—and their families—the complications are daunting. For many, the only hope is a kidney transplant.
Blanche Chavers, MD, a University of Minnesota Physicians (M Physicians) leading pediatric nephrologist, cares for children at one of only two free-standing dialysis centers in Minnesota and one of the only clinics in the world capable of treating young children with severe kidney disease, the Kidney Center at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital.
The Kidney Center, made up of a multidisciplinary team of expertise, is “a premier site for the diagnosis and treatment of children with kidney disorders,” Dr. Chavers says. The center leverages expertise across a wide spectrum of disciplines, including world-class surgeons, intensive care doctors, neurology specialists, pharmacologists, psychologists and family life management counselors.
With 15-20 kidney transplants performed each year, compared to three to six patients at most other kidney centers, the results exemplify the center’s capabilities and provides more data for outcomes that are “enabling greater research into effects,” Dr. Chavers says.
One significant challenge for pediatric kidney transplant is that most kidney donors are adults. Because of the larger size, allograft (donated) kidneys can’t be transplanted until the baby reaches about eight months of age and 16-20 pounds in weight. In the intervening months, dialysis must be performed daily for the child to survive. Adult kidneys also function with higher blood flow and pressure, so a mechanical perfusion pump is often needed to increase the flow rate. After a successful kidney transplant, the child’s health must be carefully monitored. Anti-rejection medicines become a lifelong regimen.
And, most children will need another kidney transplant eventually. Dr. Chavers says, “A graft transplant will last 10 to 30 years, so most children will need a second kidney” at some point during their lifetime. Thankfully, newer medications are proving useful in prolonging the life of transplanted kidneys.
These complications are well worth the benefits of living a more normal life without dialysis or impending renal failure.
“Seeing a child recover is why I continue to be motivated all these years."
In addition to her pre and post transplant research, Dr. Chavers’ lab contributes to the science of kidney health in the United States broadly, by participating in the National Health and Nutrition Exam Survey (NHANES).
“Our lab evaluates urine samples to identify elevated albumin protein levels, a key indicator of subtle kidney disease,” says Dr. Chavers. This research helps the medical community assess the status of kidney health across the U.S. population.
“The focus of my research is complications before and after kidney transplant surgery,” Dr. Chavers says. Her research has led to the development of life-saving protocols and therapies for young patients with kidney disease and end-stage renal failure.
Dr. Chavers’ distinguished career includes being named a Fellow at the American Society of Nephrology for her commitment to the field, high professional achievement, and excellence in practice and research. Dr. Chavers has also earned “Top Doctor” accolades from Minnesota Monthly, Mpls.St. Paul magazine and several national organizations.
“We really have a great program, with dedicated people, great facilities and a supportive community,” she says. She credits the expert faculty, M Physicians staff and U of M athletic teams for their support of pediatric medicine and the Masonic Children’s Hospital in particular.