According to Michigan Medicine’s Inherited Kidney Diseases Clinic, more than 60 genetic diseases are currently known to directly or indirectly affect the kidneys. Inherited kidney conditions range from relatively common conditions to very rare syndromes. The clinic provides education, counseling, treatment, genetic testing, and works with patients and families to explore available options for treatment.

As with other kidney diseases a transplant sometimes is the only medical procedure that can heal and help restore a patient suffering from an inherited kidney disease.  A living donor transplant is the preferred treatment for kidney failure when a transplant is needed.

The Swansons is one such family stricken with an inherited kidney disease.  They watched in despair as the disease claimed the life of beloved family members while the health of surviving siblings began to decline.  Four of the six Swanson children inherited the disease that took the life of their mother and brother. 

Jennifer Mayerle with CBS News affiliate in Minnesota, in an interview with the family, captured the siblings’ feelings of hopelessness, “We kind of lost the humor almost in the family, you know, because the future was so bleak,” said Dave Swanson.  Another sibling, Mary Swanson shared, “You just make decisions based on the knowledge that your life is so long. But it’s a huge mental shift in your head.” 

Luckily, family for the Swansons extends to uncles, aunts, and cousins, all of whom are very close.   It began with Mike Weiss who learned his cousin, Tom Swanson, was on dialysis and in need of a kidney.  Mike who told Mayerle, “I’ve known him my whole life, we’re probably best friends,” Mike donated a kidney to Tom.

After Mike donated a kidney to cousin Tom, two other relatives stepped forward as living donors.  In total, three living donors — all relatives — raised their hands to help. “Doctors performed the three kidney transplants at Mayo Clinic in under three years.  Brother Dave donated a kidney to sister Mary and sister Kate received her kidney from cousin Stephanie Miller.” reported Mayerie.  Cousin Kate Swanson said in the interview, “You can’t even grasp it. It was like a switch was flipped.  All of a sudden, I had a future. I didn’t have a future before that.”

Dr. Mikel Prieto at Mayo Clinic performed the transplants and explains the special procedure used in removing the diseased kidneys and replacing them with the donated kidneys from the living donors.   

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For more information on becoming a living donor, visit Mayo Clinic Transplant Center website.

Tests can help patients determine if there is a genetic cause for an individual’s kidney disease or if there is an increased hereditary risk due to family history.  Kidney disease can be detected early in most young adults before they began experiencing symptoms.  It provides time for individuals with the disease to decide whether to inform other family members and work out a long-term plan for care with the help of their physician.

Anyone can register to become an organ donor at  Living donors and organ recipients can contact National Foundation for Transplants when they need help raising funds for out-of-pocket transplant-related expenses.  We exist to help transplant patients through their most difficult times get to their most wonderful times.  You can support their transplant journey with a financial gift.