There aren’t enough organs to go around, which is why it’s remarkable when a person on the waiting list actually receives the precious gift.  

For a local patient once stuck in the system and unable to even qualify for a transplant, a determined doctor helped change her course. 

WGN News first spoke with Mecca Muhammed last summer as the 45-year-old was anxiously awaiting a new kidney. She had been diagnosed with renal failure while pregnant with her daughter in 2002. 

For nearly 15 years, three times a week, Muhammed drove 45 minutes each way from her home in rural Rochelle to the closest dialysis facility. 

“I’m just working with what I got, the car that I have,” she said. “Just hoping this is the end of the road.” 

Three months later, Muhammed’s long road to a transplant ended while she was sitting in the dialysis chair. 

“When I got the call, I was excited, nervous and scared at the same time, but I was ready,” Muhammed said.  

It’s a scenario Dr. Dinee Simpson envisioned when she started the African American Transplant Access Program at Northwestern Medicine. She knows the challenges her patients face. At the core of her work – building trust with her patients and helping them navigate their diagnoses. 

“To see her face in the preoperative area when we’re like ‘oh my gosh, we’re finally here, you’re going to get a kidney,’ and you can say goodbye to dialysis, there’s nothing better than that,” Dr. Simpson said.

For Muhammed, the program jump-started a stalled path to transplant. 

“It was great that she stepped up and got her program to help people like me hard to get on the list, but I’m grateful for it all,” Muhammed said.  

After more lab tests confirmed the donor organ was a good match, Muhammed arrived at the hospital for her surgery. 

“It was a little scary, and I didn’t know what to expect and I was just anxious to get it over with,” she said.  

Muhammed said she was satisfied just knowing “I didn’t have to go back to dialysis.” 

Instead of regular trips to dialysis, Muhammed now checks in every two weeks. So far, her new kidney is holding up, and her energy is higher than it’s been in 15 years. 

“I used to feel sick every day. Now I feel a lot better. No more of that sick feeling, so I feel more normal now. Back to normal,” Muhammed said.  

As she gets stronger, her thoughts often drift to her donor. 

“Almost every day wish I could thank the family and him or her,” Muhammed said.  

Muhammed is the 19th patient to receive a transplant with the help of AATAP, a number Dr. Simpson is determined to grow. 

“It will need additional programs like ours across the country, but it also needs policy change, so working with lawmakers to address the structural issues in our communities to make a change on that level,” Dr. Simpson said.  

Muhammed says she remains grateful and adds that she would like to get a job at a dialysis center to encourage other patients and let them know there’s hope for a life-changing transplant. 

“It means everything. It saved my life for one,” Muhammed said. “I’m grateful for Dr. Simpson, her program, and everything she helped me get through to get my kidney.”