Judge Wehrman donates kidney to prosecutor. No objection from Defense bar.

 Judge Wehrman of Covington donated one of his kidneys to Assistant U.S. Attorney E.J. Walbourn. This is the most selfless acts we have ever heard of by a Judge. The following story appeared in the Kentucky Post.
Assistant U.S. Attorney E. J. Walbourn is recovering from a kidney transplant this week. The donor: U.S. Judge Magistrate J. Gregory Wehrman.

“E.J. was in bad shape,” Wehrman said Thursday from his hospital room at Christ Hospital. “Luckily, I was a match.”

The two have faced each other across the judge’s bench for years in the federal courthouse in Covington. Tuesday they were in Christ Hospital, sharing much more than courtroom space and trial information, as surgeons took out one of Wehrman’s kidneys and transplanted it into Walbourn.

“They took it out and five minutes later it was in E.J.,” Wehrman said. “It started working immediately. E.J. is ecstatic.”

Both men were in good condition Thursday and hoped to go home next week.

Wehrman’s donor operation was laparoscopic surgery, which meant the surgeon was able to extract his kidney through tiny incisions while using a camera to guide his instruments.

In Greater Cincinnati, Christ and University are the only hospitals performing adult kidney transplants. According to the Web site for the Health Alliance, which includes both hospitals, the laparoscopic procedure is less invasive than an open kidney transplant, which involves a substantial incision from the navel to the back. With laparoscopic surgery, donors experience less pain and discomfort and have a shorter recovery time.

The kidney’s primary job is to cleanse blood. One kidney is usually adequate, so a person with two can lose one without suffering consequences.

Walbourn supervises the Covington office for the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky and has prosecuted cases in Wehrman’s courtroom.

Walbourn declined to comment for this story.

Steve Wolnitzek, chairman of the Judicial Conduct Commission of Kentucky and a former president of the Kentucky Bar Association, said a kidney exchange wouldn’t preclude a judge and prosecutor from working on the same case.

“I’d think if it was a judge in Kentucky, he would disclose that to opposing counsel,” said Wolnitzek. “He (the judge) could say ‘I don’t think it’s grounds for me to recuse, but if they do, I’ll consider their arguments.’”

Wolnitzek said he knew Walbourn was seriously ill and needed a transplant.

The biggest concern for transplant recipients is rejection of the new organ.

Nationally, more than 66,000 people are waiting for donor kidneys, said Dr. Steven Woodle, chief of transplant surgery at Christ and University hospitals, in an interview last month.

He said the average wait for cadaver kidneys – those harvested after the donor’s death – can range from three to 5½ years, depending on blood type.

Live donors are preferred. Woodle has worked with donors who are blood relatives, spouses and friends of recipients. Lately he’s been transplanting kidneys from live donors who are strangers, but linked by common needs.

Because so many people who need kidneys have a willing donor who does not have a matching blood type, Woodle helped organize a paired kidney donation program that can increase the chances of finding a live donor by matching donor and recipient pairs for a kidney trade.

“There’s such a need for kidneys,” said Wehrman. “When you look at what a difference it can make, it’s a miracle.”
Kentucky Post staff report

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