Nephrology fellow donates kidney to father
by Jessica Pasley
Career plans take a turn for the personal
Since he can remember, Hani Bleibel, M.D., a nephrology fellow at VUMC, has always wanted to be a physician. What he didn’t know was that one of the lives he would save would be his father’s.
When Bleibel first entered school at Kursk State Medical University in his native Russia, he was unsure about what specialty to study. Originally attracted to internal medicine because his father suffered from hypertension, his focus changed when his father’s health deteriorated.
“My father’s illness is what guided my decision about what to practice,” said Bleibel. “I really thought I would pursue internal medicine, but as his health declined and his kidneys failed, nephrology seemed to be a better choice for me.”
Bleibel, 32, graduated from Kursk in 2004 where he received both his undergraduate and medical degree in a six-year program. He later came to the United States to begin his training and completed his internal medicine residency at Meharry Medical College in 2009.
He came to Vanderbilt as a nephrology fellow in 2010. Meanwhile, his father had been placed on the kidney transplant waiting list a year earlier.
“For 25 years my father suffered with hypertension and chronic kidney disease,” said Bleibel. “It wasn’t until the last 10 years that he was diagnosed with kidney failure. Although he never had to go onto dialysis, he was gradually worsening and the need for transplant was getting closer. We knew the chances of getting a cadaveric kidney were not great.”
Bleibel is one of six boys, and three of the brothers were tested for compatibility. All three of them matched. At that point things became a bit competitive, It became a race – not necessarily against the clock, but amongst the three siblings to see who would complete the required testing first.
“[All three of us] wanted to be his donor,” said Bleibel. “But only one potential donor can be worked up for transplant at a time. I happened to be the furthest along in the process. It was pretty exciting because we are all very competitive.
“In the end it really didn’t matter who donated the kidney, but I was expecting that I would be the one.”
In anticipation of being selected, Bleibel scheduled his fellowship so that he would have the flexibility to donate his kidney to his father.
On July 5, just two days after his clinical rotation ended for his fellowship, Bleibel underwent surgery.
He and his father, Ahmad Bliebel, were hospitalized four days before being released to recover at home.
“My dad did better than I did,” laughs Bleibel. “It was much tougher after surgery than I expected, and I should have known! Until I was an actual patient, I did not know how it felt. I now have so much empathy for my patients.
“I really thought I would be able to leave the hospital after two days. Now, I better understand why we give patients four to six weeks to fully recover.”
Bleibel has since returned to work. He is actively participating in his second year of his fellowship.
He said he hopes he has some extra insight to offer patients as they make their way through the transplant journey.
“Donating an organ is … it’s a way to help someone regain normalcy,” said Bleibel. “For me, it was for my father. I felt it was something I should have done as his son. And by all means, if a person is capable of helping improve someone else’s quality of life, then they should step up.
“I think my being a donor has helped other patient families in our service. They see that it can be done and if that helps save a life then I am doing my part.”