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Patient donated kidney, received kidney and enjoying fresh start

IU Health University Hospital

Patient donated kidney, received kidney and enjoying fresh start

He has a giving heart. So when his brother needed a kidney, Harambee Purnell donated his. He had no idea that years later, he too would need a kidney transplant. Nearly six months later, he is enjoying renewed health.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

Fresh off the golf course, Harambee Purnell offers a hand gesture that says, “Things are great.” It’s an encouraging sign given the path Purnell has taken to enjoy a round of golf.

This is a man who has spent 48 years focusing on the needs of others. His father, a Baptist pastor, and his mother, a steel worker, taught him at an early age the importance of serving others. So Purnell has become known for helping out stranded motorists, volunteering at a food pantry and coaching youth sports. He also became a living donor several years ago when his older brother needed a kidney transplant.

A former member of the University of Arizona football team, Purnell has enjoyed good health most of his life – until February 2016. During a regular check up, a mass was discovered on Purnell’s kidney. He was diagnosed with kidney and bladder cancer. In the past four years, he has been hospitalized more than a dozen times, including procedures to remove his kidney, bladder and prostate. He was on hemodialysis until he received a kidney transplant in early March, under the care of IU Health Dr. William Goggins.

August is designated as National Minority Donor Awareness Month, a collaborative initiative to heighten attention to donation and multicultural communities. According to Donate Life, the effort focuses primarily on African American/Black Hispanic/Latino, Asian Pacific Islander, and American Indiana/Alaskan Native communities. The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) reports more than 100,000 men, women and children are awaiting transplants. Nearly 60 percent of those on the national transplant waiting list are from multicultural communities. Of that number, 29 percent are African American/Black, and 20 percent are Hispanic/Latino. Last year there were 8,325 African American/Black organ recipients and 2,414 donors. There were 6,709 Hispanic/Latino recipients and 2,816 donors. An average of 84 percent of those awaiting transplantation are in need of a kidney. The average wait for a deceased kidney donor is anywhere from three to five years. Living donors can register to donate a kidney or a portion of their liver to a patient via RegisterMe.org.

For Purnell, becoming a living kidney donor was a natural decision. “It was my brother. It’s what you do to help family,” said Purnell. When Purnell’s kidney began to fail, he was listed and received a call within three months. “Throughout this whole thing he has never lost his determination and his positive outlook,” said his wife Vatania Purnell.

“Since my transplant my energy has increased,” said Purnell. In addition to golf he exercises as much as possible and was recently cleared to normal activities by his nephrologist IU Health Dr. Asif Sharfuddin. “I am so grateful to IU Health, the staff at University Hospital and all who have supported me through this journey,” said Purnell.

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