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Generous donation from local Panera Bread locations enables U.Va. Children’s Hospital transplant program to reach new heights

The cafes raised $178,000, which will help numerous pediatric patients receive essential transplant treatments

<p>The University Children’s Hospital says the donation will go towards reinforcing multidisciplinary healthcare teams that can more adequately serve heart, kidney and liver pediatric transplant patients.</p>

The University Children’s Hospital says the donation will go towards reinforcing multidisciplinary healthcare teams that can more adequately serve heart, kidney and liver pediatric transplant patients.

From January to November 2019, customers at 16 Panera Bread cafes around Virginia were given the opportunity to round up their order totals to support the University Children’s Hospital transplant program, which aims to help adolescents in need of transplant surgeries live better, more healthy lives. During this 11-month period, these donations steadily accumulated, eventually totaling over $178,000 — money expected to help dozens of children receive life-saving medical care.

Kelly Jackson — co-owner of 16 Panera Bread locations around Virginia as well as vice president of marketing and sales at Blue Ridge Bread Inc. — decided that she wanted to give back to the University Children’s Hospital as a result of numerous interactions with the staff while her daughters received treatment for severe medical conditions. In 2015, the Jacksons enrolled their franchisees in the Change 4 Children’s program as a philanthropic approach to enable their customer base to give back to their community, specifically the University Hospital.

“We really feel like it's important to get back into the communities where we operate our business and then give people that live in the community a small chance to be part of something really big,” Jackson said.

The program functions by giving Panera Bread customers the option to round up their meal totals to the next dollar with the leftover change contributing to the franchise’s chosen cause.

Kyle Robinson, director of marketing, recruiting and catering for the Panera franchise, deeply resonates with the selfless cause of the program and appreciates its efficiency in accumulating donation money.

“It is something that is very clean and easy, and we have tremendous success with it because a lot of people think that, ‘If my bill is $5.98, what is two cents going to be?’ Well, two cents equals $178,000 when you actually have [a lot of] people,” Robinson said.

The University Children’s Hospital is immensely grateful for the donation, intending to use it primarily towards reinforcing multidisciplinary healthcare teams that can more adequately serve heart, kidney and liver pediatric transplant patients.

Agnieszka Swiatecka-Urban, chief of pediatric nephrology at the University Children’s Hospital, explains that the multidisciplinary approach to treating transplant patients includes having dieticians, social workers and psychologists see the patients in addition to the transplant surgeons and care coordinators. The approach has the intention of utilizing the versatile expertise of each professional in order to provide increasingly well-rounded care to transplant patients.

“Frequently, when we talk about the great outcomes of transplant [treatments], we don't emphasize enough that it is an effort of teams of around 20 to 30 people that are involved and responsible for the great success of the program,” Swaitecka-Urban said.

Since pediatric transplant patients must normally take part in a pre-transplant evaluation including extensive bloodwork and imaging, as well as stay after their transplant for close monitoring, the procedure inevitably results in external costs associated with the extended stay in Charlottesville. According to Swiatecka-Urban, since several patients come from far-off areas for transplant treatment, the donation will serve to help families cover various external expenditures such as travel, meals, lodging and even helping patients keep up with school.

The donation is set to contribute partially towards transplanting kidneys for 51 pediatric patients — all who have been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease and end-stage kidney disease. 

In CKD, the kidneys are slowly damaged and unable to maintain normal blood filtration capability, thus causing symptoms such as swelling, chest pain, fatigue and headaches as abnormal levels of fluid and salt collect in the bloodstream. If CKD is left untreated, it eventually progresses into end-stage kidney disease, in which kidneys have lost the majority of their functionality and need either regular dialysis treatments to remove wastes from the body or a kidney transplant to renew function. 

Swiatecka-Urban, who specializes in kidney care for pediatric patients, remarks that a kidney transplant is often more conducive for the patient’s development and longevity than receiving dialysis.

“Dialysis is the replacement of the kidney function, but from years of experience we know that it is best to transplant patients, those pediatric patients, just before they start the need for dialysis because they can grow better and they can have a much longer life expectancy after the transplantation,” Swiatecka-Urban said.

Overall, those representing the U.Va. Children’s Hospital transplant program feel that the privilege to receive an organ transplant translates to a renewed sense of life for their patients.

“This is really a donation of life, you know, having the opportunity to have a kidney transplant,” Swiatecka-Urban said.