When Michael Barber Jr. suffered a mild heart attack in 2016, his doctors acted quickly to place stents in his heart to correct underlying issues. Following the surgery, everything seemed to recover normally until he began experiencing serious complications—his kidneys had never recovered from the surgical dye, and he was now in the midst of full-blown renal failure. While his doctor recommended dialysis, Barber wanted a more permanent solution: organ transplantation.
A resident of Steubenville, Ohio, Barber considers himself fortunate that he was so close to the UPMC Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute. After a year of evaluation and planning, he received his kidney transplant from a living donor in 2017.
“It was a life-changing event for me,” Barber said. “I thought the team at Starzl was just phenomenal…you just knew that the people were there for the care and not for anything else. They were there for the right cause.”
After his experience, Barber knew he wanted to help connect others suffering from organ failure with the Starzl Institute.
“Before I had the transplant, I was so private about it. But now, I’m such a proponent of the Starzl clinic and the care that they give that I couldn’t see people going anyplace but that,” Barber said.
In 2020, Barber and his wife endowed the Michael J. Barber, Jr. Kidney Transplant Fund to further clinical research on living donations, improve compliance with treatment recommendations, and refine non-directed kidney donation. More specifically, Barber hopes that the fund will support Starzl’s paired donor exchange program, which connects willing donors who are biologically incompatible with their family members to a better-matched recipient: essentially an organ “swap.”
“There are so many people waiting for kidneys,” Barber said. “And you may have donors that don’t match, but they may match somebody else.” Without improved compliance or programs like the paired donor exchange program, “you have a kidney that’s wasted and a life that’s wasted because of it.”
Today, nearly four years into recovery, Barber continues to counsel others on his own transplantation experience and support the health care industry in any way he can. In addition to his UPMC endowment, he also gives back to his local hospital and previously served as chair of the board of directors there.
“I think supporting medical care is so important,” Barber said. “I know that I can make it better by donating to the right causes in order to develop more programs and more care.”