ATLANTA (FOX 5 Atlanta) - Before a stranger stepped forward to donate a kidney to 50-year old Vonchelle Knight of Dacula, Georgia, earlier this year, the single mother of two spent eight years on a waiting list for a donor kidney.
Stories like Knight's prompted President Donald Trump to sign an executive order that could affect up to 37 million Americans living with kidney disease. Dr. Stephen Pastan, the medical director of the Kidney and Pancreas Transplant program at the Emory Transplant Center, says too many Americans with kidney disease are slipping through the cracks in the system.
"A lot of people are diagnosed when they have advanced kidney failure, or people show up needing dialysis right away, and they never knew they were sick," Pastan says.
The president's initiative would raise awareness about kidney disease, through a media campaign, and it would provide incentives for doctors who can help patients stave off kidney failure.
"So, people can be diagnosed, and maybe they don't have to get dialysis, maybe they don't need a kidney transplant," Pastan explains.
For those patients who do ultimately need a kidney transplant, the plan might help speed up the process, allowing them to get the surgery before they need to start dialysis.
"They'll do better, they'll live longer, and they'll feel better," Pastan says. "And, it's also less expensive to care for them. So it's a win/win all around."
Another win, Pastan believes, is the plan's push to get kidney failure patient out of dialysis centers, allowing them to undergo their blood-filtering treatments at home.
The president also wants to boost the number of living kidney donors, by helping them recoup lost wages and transplant-related travel expenses.
One study found close to a third of living donors report facing financial hardships, with their average out-of-pocket expenses at just over $2,700.
"There are a lot of people that can't really afford to donate that could donate, if they could get those expenses covered," Pastan says.
For patients living with kidney disease, Paston says, the president's initiative could be a big deal.
"I think it means they'll be healthier and live longer," he says.