Aji Djamali is making his kidney donation public to inspire others.
Kidney recipient John Jartz (right) and Aji Djamali, chair of the department of medicine at Maine Medical Center, are seen on the day of the transplant surgery. Credit: Courtesy of UW Health via Maine Medical Center

Maine Medical Center’s chair of the Department of Medicine recently donated his kidney to a former patient. He’s hoping to inspire others to give the gift of life.

Dr. Aji Djamali recently donated his kidney to a former patient at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin.

Maine Medical Center said Djamali is making his donation public to inspire others to give the gift of life.

“Ever since I was in medical school studying nephrology, I have wanted to walk the walk and make a difference in the life of someone with kidney disease,” Djamali said. “Living kidney donation saves lives, and I hope my experience serves as an example for others in my new state of Maine and across the country.”

Djamali first met his recipient, John Jartz of Wisconsin, in 2015 when Jartz was his patient.

Maine Medical Center said Jartz has polycystic kidney disease, an inherited disorder in which clusters of cysts on the kidneys cause them to enlarge and eventually stop working.

Djamali treated Jartz for two years, and the two men discovered that they had a lot in common. They became friends, and Djamali referred Jartz to Dr. Gauri Ghutani, a nephrologist who specializes in polycystic kidney disease, according to Maine Medical Center.

Jartz was eventually told he needed a kidney transplant and began looking for a donor. Maine Medical Center said Djamali had been wanting to donate a kidney for more than 20 years because he knows the impact that living donation has on the lives of patients waiting for a donor.

Maine Medical Center said kidneys from living donors typically last longer than those from deceased donors. After a recovery period, donors and recipients are able to live full, active lives.

Years ago, Djamali’s wife had asked him to wait until their three children were grown before he donated. With all three children now out of the house, the time was right.

“I had other people offer to donate a kidney, but when Aji told me he was being evaluated to donate to me, I was completely overwhelmed,” Jartz said. “We have such a close bond, but I was literally speechless.”

Djamali, who has the same rare type B blood type as Jartz, learned he was also a near perfect match in 2021, just as he was moving to Maine to chair the Department of Medicine at Maine Medical Center.

“I have always admired kidney donors for sharing the gift of life,” Djamali said. “Now that I have had the privilege to be a donor, I encourage anyone who is healthy and interested to learn more about living donation.”

Maine Medical Center said the need for life-saving organ donors continues to grow both in Maine and across the country. More than 240 people are currently waiting for a kidney transplant in Maine, a number that has more than doubled during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients typically wait more than five years for a kidney.

Maine Medical Center said living donors do not need to have the same blood type as their intended recipient. The Maine Transplant Program continues to take steps to remove barriers to living kidney donation and actively participates in the National Kidney Registry, where recipients and donors from across the country are matched with each other.

Living kidney donors can also donate in advance for a family member who may need a kidney transplant in the future or donate to create a “voucher” for a recipient they are not compatible with. The voucher allows the recipient to receive a kidney from a donor within the registry.

Anyone who is interested in learning more about living kidney donation can visit the Maine Transplant Program website or call the living donor program toll free at 800-870-5230.