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Pensacola man receives first kidney transplant at Sacred Heart

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A local man who has been on a transplant waiting list for about six years finally receives the gift of life through a kidney donation.

The kidney transplant was performed at Sacred Heart Health Systems in Pensacola. Right now, they are the only hospital in the region with this program.

Renwick Avant, of Pensacola, was Sacred Heart’s first patient.

Eight years ago, he was diagnosed with kidney disease. As his kidneys began to fail he had to have dialysis three times a week.

"It's almost like a part-time job, my machine ran three hours and 45 minutes so it took almost five hours a day, three days a week" Avant said.

Avant was a baseball and football coach with the Myrtle Grove Youth Association, but he eventually had to give that all up.

“I've been on the transplant list for about six years. It takes a lot out of you, you feel like 'how much longer do I have to wait?'"

Doctors placed him on a transplant waiting list in Birmingham, Alabama, and New Orleans, Louisiana.

More than 100,000 people in the United States are waiting for a kidney.

Sacred Heart’s transplant surgeon, Dr. Rick Stevens told Channel 3 those numbers are growing.

"There's an increasing number of patients placed on the wait list, but not more organs to go around,” Dr. Stevens said. “The average wait time is 4-10 years."

When Avant learned Sacred Heart Health Systems started a kidney transplant program in his hometown of Pensacola, he went straight to Dr. Stevens.

"I told him I want to be number one. I said I want to be the first patient," he said.

His dream came true. Avant was the first to receive a kidney transplant at Sacred Heart.

"I feel great now. I'm full of energy, everything is good, I get to eat a lot of stuff. I couldn't drink milk, dairy, cheese, chocolate. I had to give up chocolate, now I can eat chocolate."

So far, Dr. Stevens has performed three transplants and he hopes to do about 100 transplants a year.

"This part of Florida is a near epidemic in renal failure. A lot of folks with hypertension, diabetes and obesity. There are very few programs nearby, closest is New Orleans," Dr. Stevens said.

The program started just a few weeks ago. They currently use kidneys from deceased donors, but they are working to be able to use kidneys from living donors.

That will significantly expand their donor pool. They are also in the process of getting approval to see Medicare patients.