Former UW Health physician donates kidney to patient in need of transplant


MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – For a majority of his career, Dr. Arjang “Aji” Djamali has wanted to donate a kidney to a person in need of a transplant, and he finally got the chance.

On June 29, Dr. Djamali donated a kidney to one of his former patients.

UW Health explained that the dream started years ago during his medical training in France, where he worked under a kidney transplant specialist he admired. Dr. Djamali later became a kidney transplant specialist himself at UW Health, also serving as the chief of the division of nephrology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

But Dr. Djamali’s journey to become a donor didn’t start until he met John Jartz in 2015.

Jartz had been diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, which causes clusters of cysts on the kidneys and eventual kidney failure. Patients often greatly benefit from a transplant in this case, according to UW Health.

After doing lots of research on the condition and transplant centers, John and his wife Kathy found UW Health Transplant Center and Dr. Djamali.

“We connected right away,” Jartz said. “You could tell he really cares about his patients, but we also had a lot in common. We shared a love for travel and bad jokes. I actually looked forward to my appointments with him, which isn’t usually the case when you’re talking about managing a disease like mine.”

Over the following two years, the two saw each other during clinic appointments, but Dr. Djamali felt that Jartz’s primary care should be transferred to Dr. Gauri Bhutani, a specialist in polycystic kidney disease at UW Health.

Dr. Djamali stayed in touch with Jartz’s condition, and in 2019 it was clear that Jartz needed a kidney transplant. Jartz immediately began the search for a living kidney donor.

At the end of 2021, Dr. Djamali told Jartz he would be leaving UW Health to lead the department of medicine at Maine Medical Center. The two met for a meal to say goodbye, and at the end of the meal, Dr. Djamali told Jartz he found a donor.

“I said, ‘it’s me,'” Djamali said. “John was speechless. We went through the process of evaluating our compatibility and I was almost a perfect match for him.”

“Aji is a healthy guy, and he’s lived a healthy lifestyle. I would expect this kidney to last many years, hopefully for the rest of John’s life,” Dr. Josh Mezrich, professor of surgery at UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and Djamali’s transplant surgeon and former colleague at UW Health, said.

On June 29, Dr. Djamali’s right kidney was removed through laparoscopic surgery, and the kidney was transplanted into Jartz. It immediately started to work.

“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.”

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