Race removed as factor in kidney function test, allowing Minneapolis woman to receive transplant sooner


MINNEAPOLIS — A major change in the medical world is helping make kidney transplants more racially equitable.

Race is no longer being considered an important test to estimate kidney function.

Bernadeia Johnson, a Black woman from Minneapolis, had kidney transplant surgery last month.

“I’m doing so well,” she said.

Living with stage five chronic kidney disease, Johnson had five donors fall through until the sixth turned out to be the charm.

“I had to show some level of strength, but I have to tell you, nobody should have to show this much strength,” she said. “It was very hard.”

There are several factors that go into someone’s placement on the transplant waiting list, including, of course, if there’s a match out there, but one of the factors is how long the wait has been.

Johnson got a big boost there.

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Bernadeia Johnson


“I was on the list for two years, but after they did the recalculation, I was on the list for five years and eight months,” she said.

That adjustment was the result of race being removed as a component in a test that estimates kidney function.

“I could still be waiting,” Johnson said.

Dr. Kirsten Johansen, Hennepin Healthcare’s chief of nephrology, says the test had been systematically causing Black people’s results to come back as higher, which, in some cases, may have affected their eligibility for a transplant.

“They required all transplant centers to go back and reevaluate…and then go through the charts of all Black patients to see whether they could document that they would have, under the newer equation, had a lower estimated kidney function sooner, and then to adjust their time back,” Johansen said.

Johansen says there’s still plenty of work to do to address racial disparities in health outcomes.

“Among people with kidney failure, requiring dialysis or transplant, it’s almost four times higher for Black people than for white people,” she said. “It’s also higher among Hispanics.”

In Johnson’s case, the culprits were diabetes and hypertension — two risk factors that occur at higher rates in Black people.

“There’s no silver bullet to any of this,” she said. “Just trying to take control of my own health and becoming my best advocate.”

Johnson received her transplant at M Health Fairview.

Fairview stopped using race as an automatic adjustment in determining kidney health in 2021.



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