SWAMPSCOTT – Melanie Kaplan, a Swampscott mother of two who grew up in Houston, Texas, needs a kidney and your help finding a match.
Five years ago, Kaplan was diagnosed with kidney failure, which she said resulted from the drugs she took since she was 7 years old to control lupus, an inflammatory disease caused when the immune system attacks its own tissues.
Last month, she started dialysis, which is not a long-term solution. She is searching for a live kidney donor match in either the Boston or the Houston areas, knowing that the wait on the national list for a deceased donor’s kidney can last up to seven years.
None of her immediate family or relatives are matches, though her brother, Howard Nirken of Texas, who is the wrong blood type, has offered to be a swap match, meaning he will add his kidney to a pool of potential donors, and if he is able to provide a kidney to another recipient, a donor would be found to match Kaplan.
However, Kaplan said nothing is certain when it comes to finding a kidney donor.
“I’m looking for more donors because it’s going to take a lot of people tested to find a match for me,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan, 53, grew up Melanie Nirken in Houston and came to the Greater Boston area in 1986 to attend Tufts University, where she majored in child study and human development and graduated in 1990. It’s where she met her husband, Jeff Kaplan, who is from the area.
The couple married in 1992, and moved to Austin, Texas, in 1997 to be closer to Melanie Kaplan’s family.
The couple lived there until 2017 when her husband got a job in Peabody and they moved to Swampscott. Jeff Kaplan grew up in Easton, and his parents were originally from Chelsea.
“I have a strong Jewish background,” said Melanie Kaplan, who attended Jewish day school through the eighth grade, and graduated as an award-winning student at the religious school in Houston at Congregation Beth Yeshurun. She was also the first teacher hired at a Jewish day school in Austin.
Melanie and Jeff Kaplan have two children, Shawna, 19, and Jeremy, 14, a freshman at Swampscott High. The family belongs to Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead, and their son had his bar mitzvah there in December 2020 after it was rescheduled several times due to the pandemic.
In 2007, shortly after her son was born and after a regular blood draw because of her lupus, her rheumatologist noticed her kidney numbers were off and sent her to a nephrologist.
Five years ago, her kidney function fell to 30 percent and by the time she moved to Swampscott in 2017, it had dropped to 25 percent. Doctors told her she could not get on a transplant list until her kidney function was at or below 20 percent.
She wasn’t placed on the United Network for Organ Sharing list until 2019. In the Boston area, Kaplan has been working with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to find a live donor.
After getting on the list and in the midst of trying to find a donor, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the nation’s transplant system, Kaplan said. It came back online this year, and Kaplan was advised to get on a list in another region of the country to improve her chances of finding a match.
She decided to search for a living donor in the Houston area as part of Houston Methodist Hospital’s Living Donor Program in the city where she grew up and has many friends and family. About 16 people have put their name on the Houston list so far. She also is looking for those willing to be live donors in the Boston area.
She started dialysis at home on Aug. 12 and is hoping to return to her work soon at the Beverly YMCA, where she is the preschool director.
The link to become a potential kidney donor for Melanie Kaplan at Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston is bidmc.org/transplant. Those willing to sign up should email Kaplan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also learn more by going to www.facebook.com/Melaniekidneydonorsearch.