From Donation to Graduation

Jacob Lambdin, a fourth-year medical student at the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), always knew he wanted to be a surgeon – but it wasn’t clear to him that transplant surgery was his future until medical school.

“I’d always been intrigued by transplant surgery but wasn’t too sure if it would fit with what else I wanted from life,” he says, adding that surgery can be particularly time-consuming. “I’m married, I have a kid, I want to see them occasionally.”

Enter J. Keith Melancon, MD, chief of the Division of Transplant Surgery, director of the Transplant Institute at GW Hospital, and professor of surgery at SMHS. Melancon, a longtime proponent of kidney donations who performed more than 50 transplant surgeries in 2017 alone, routinely lectures to third-year medical students during their surgery rotations. His topic of choice: disparities in kidney transplantation.

Lambdin was intrigued – both by the need for donors and by Melancon, who Lambdin says has managed to balance family and work life. He was so inspired, he volunteered one of his own kidneys, though Melancon, he says, “tried to talk him out of it.”

“Of course, he was thrilled that I wanted to do it. His question was the timing,” Lambdin explains. “During medical school, you don’t have much time off. But I knew I wanted to go into surgery, and I knew I wouldn’t have much time off for a very long time, so it was now or never. And I wanted to give a good kidney; I don’t want to wait until I’m older to do it. I want someone to get the most out of it that they can.”

Lambdin donated his kidney in December 2016 and was back in class less than two weeks later. He and his recipient, Andrew Lewis, have stayed in touch, while Lambdin and Melancon have formed a protégée-mentor bond. Melancon, he says, “is one of the types of people who becomes the change he wants to see in the world. That was inspiring to me.”

Melancon was equally inspired: “I feel very strongly that he’s exactly the sort of person I would want to follow in my footsteps.”

Melancon, Lambdin adds, was an invaluable source of inspiration during the residency application process. It’s fitting, too, where Lambdin matched: GW.

“It’s exceedingly rare to have a student that really wants to do [transplant surgery],” Melancon says. “He told me from the very first time I met him that he was interested in doing it, and then he told me that he wanted to be a donor. Again, I’ve had many people say that they were interested in being kidney donors, but it’s exceedingly rare that someone actually does it. On both of those issues, Jacob really was sincere.”

He starts his residency in June, after graduation, and he’s asked Melancon to hood him at the seminal event.

“I am so honored to be doing this because Jacob is a phenomenal young man,” Melancon says. “I am definitely, definitely, very greatly honored.”