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Why more than 14,000 Black kidney transplant patients are moving up on the waitlist

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

More than 14,000 Black kidney transplant patients are being moved up on the transplant waitlist. This comes after a lab test that was used for decades to evaluate kidney function was deemed biased for calculating results differently for Black patients. Now, because of the test, kidneys appeared to be healthier in Black patients than those of non-Black patients, and as a result, Black patients were placed lower on the kidney transplant waiting lists. Craig Merritt is one of the patients who has been moved ahead. He had lived with kidney disease for two decades and remembers the day he learned he'd receive the transplant. He spoke with me recently about the experience.

CRAIG MERRITT: It was a huge accomplishment, just knowing there is a chance to have a second chance. There's a possibility. And that brings about hope. Now, in the back of my mind, I know one day I will get a call.

MARTÍNEZ: Now that waiting list that you're on and that one day that's to come, it turns out that it's further back on the list than maybe it should have been. Tell us about that process.

MERRITT: (Laughter) Yeah. Absolutely correct. On that lab report there's a EGFR, then there's a second EGFR, and in parentheses it says if you are African American.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, so EGFR - that measures how quickly a person's kidneys remove a waste product called creatinine.

MERRITT: Yes. It measures your creatinine levels and your kidney function. I always would question in the back of my mind, why are there two different calculations here? What makes us different from everyone else (laughter)?

MARTÍNEZ: So the calculation that you had because you're Black puts you further down on the kidney transplant list. Just because you're Black, you were put further behind.

MERRITT: Just because.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. How did you get the news that you had been moved up on the transplant list?

MERRITT: It's Friday, November the 3, 2023. I receive a phone call. And she says because of the new calculations and rules of EGFR, every transplant facility must now go back in their database and recalculate everyone's time. She says, you've been on dialysis for four years, and we have calculated that now your wait time has doubled. We now have you at eight years. I'm like, wow, that's interesting. That was Friday the 3. We fast-forward - it's Sunday the 5. I picked up the phone. The person on the other end says, we got one for you. We got a kidney for you. That moment was surreal.

MARTÍNEZ: What's life been like since the transplant? I mean, what's changed for you?

MERRITT: Everything (laughter). Everything. Because now I have a new lease on life, and the kidney is doing what it's supposed to do.

MARTÍNEZ: Through everything that you've been through, have you thought about all of the Black patients that have died because they were put further back on a transplant list because an evaluation that factored in their race?

MERRITT: Absolutely. And that's what angers me the most. And now my passion and my ministry moving forward is to ensure that Black and brown communities - that we have the education, that we are in the know. I convert that angry energy into something that will help others going forward.

MARTÍNEZ: Craig Merritt is the founder of the YouTube channel "Get In Position," which spreads awareness about kidney health. Craig, thank you very much.

MERRITT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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