Jamil Hill received his first kidney transplant in 1993—six years after learning he had a rare kidney disorder called Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, a condition that attacks the kidney’s ability to properly perform its filtering function.
In 2006, 13 years after transplant, that kidney failed and Hill was put back on the transplant waiting list and began regular dialysis treatments.
Despite the exhaustion of dialysis, Hill stayed active with his passion: work with local at-risk teens through Cincinnati’s Community Action Agency. In addition to training teens at his construction firm each summer, he coaches them in football, basketball and baseball at Shroeder Jr High.
Hill balanced dialysis with his community work for six years—until a partnership with UC Health transplant surgeon E. Steve Woodle, MD, and participation in new research protocols, finally got him to transplantation.
"There are 80,000 patients waiting for kidney transplant in the U.S.,” says Woodle. "About 20,000 of those are basically un-transplantable because they have so much immunity to other people’s kidneys. That immunity usually manifests itself in the form of high antibody levels.”
While Hill was on dialysis, more than 30 of his friends and family were tested to donate a kidney, but none matched. Hill’s antibodies were far too high and were at risk of rejecting most organs.
To enable a kidney transplant, Hills’ antibodies would have to be reduced via a treatment called desensitization. However, Hill’s antibody levels were so high that common therapy would likely fail.
A research based desensitization protocol developed at UC by Woodle and his team was offered to Hill.
"I was nervous about participating in the study,” says Hill, "But when I met the team, they put me at ease. Right off, I asked them to be honest about everything, and they were. They told me that there were no guarantees about their study—and that the new medication I would be taking can be hard on people. Without their honesty, I probably would not have done the trial.”
It took three rounds of bortezomib treatment to lower Hill’s antibodies levels. Around the same time, Hill’s partner, Jacquetta Brown, volunteered to be tested as a match.
UC Health renal transplant coordinator Mitzi Barker remembers the August 2012 night when she saw Hill’s antibody levels and called Woodle with the amazing results: the levels were finally low enough for transplantation with Jacquetta’s kidney.
"It was maybe the most exciting moment of my career,” she says.
For Hill, the call was a shock. "It was overwhelming,” he says. "They told us on Monday, we came to the hospital for tests on Wednesday and we did the surgery on Friday.”
Over a year later, Hill’s kidney is functioning well and he’s busier than ever with his volunteer work. Currently, he is constructing a new community outreach center in Roselawn. The new center will serve as a place for arts, entertainment and education for area teens.
"It was a blessing to have Jacquetta as my donor,” says Hill, "And I’m so thankful for Dr. Woodle and the transplant team. They have become like family to us.”
"It is because of patients like Jamil, who are willing to participate in research and accept unknown risks, that many more patients in the future will be able to reach transplantation and have a new lease on life,” says Woodle. "We’re humbled by his courage—it’s inspiring for all of us involved in his care.”