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Lenny Price playing saxaphone

Lenny’s Transplant Story

The story of how two gifts altered his life

Two gifts have altered Lenny Price’s life. The first was given to him in 1974, when he was 12 years old. It was a beautiful, brass saxophone. As soon as his little fingers played methodically along the keys, he fell in love, and a dream took flight. He knew from that moment on he wanted to be a professional saxophone player. 

“I took to it like a fish to water,” Lenny said, a big smile blooming across his face at the memory.

It set him on a path toward spotlights and stages, crowded venues and smooth melodies floating happily through the air. 

Little did he know then that another gift, nearly 50 years later, would alter his life again.

After high school, Lenny spent his college years as a midshipman at the Naval Academy. During his senior year physical exam, he was surprised by an unexpected diagnosis. He learned he had a rare autoimmune disorder affecting his kidneys. 

Lenny Price - The story of how two gifts altered his life

“Instead of recognizing my kidneys, my body attacked them,” he said. 

Lenny knew his kidneys would one day fail, but that didn’t stop him from living his life to the fullest. After graduating from the Naval Academy, Lenny decided to pursue his passion full-time, and he became a professional, touring saxophone player. Lenny was able to have a long career as a musician, even touring with Grammy award-winning guitarist, songwriter, and producer Earl Klugh. For years, he enjoyed being center-stage with the band, losing himself to the tunes and rhythm of his first love. He would play for hours, perfecting his craft. 

But as the years went by, his symptoms progressed and his kidney function worsened. More and more, fatigue consumed him. It became increasingly difficult to play. Eventually, he stopped touring.

Two weeks after he turned 50 years old, everything changed. He started dialysis, and the treatment clinic became like a second home. Three days a week, four hours a day, the dialysis machine would whirl and pump, filtering Lenny’s blood for him, in place of his failing kidneys. 

For Lenny, dialysis was a bridge to transplant. For him, and like many others, it was a long bridge to cross. He was on dialysis for nearly a decade. 

“It’s a huge chunk of your life,” said Dr. Jared Brandenberger, a board certified abdominal transplant surgeon at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health. 

If you break it down, Lenny spent 12 hours a week, 624 hours a year, and more than 5,616 hours total on dialysis, more than 9 years. And all those moments were time away from his saxophone. 

As of April 1, 2024, there are 1,476 patients across the region listed for transplant at the five transplant centers in Washington, according to LifeCenter Northwest.

Nationally, the numbers are staggering. More than 100,000 people are waiting on the national transplant waiting list for lifesaving organ transplants. Of the patients waiting on the waitlist, 86% are waiting for a kidney. 

In 2017, Lenny was referred to Virginia Mason Medical Center where he met Dr. Brandenberger. 

With the help of his care team, they made a plan. Lenny focused on gaining strength, he followed his treatment plan, and all the while, he envisioned gaining back the life he wanted, a reality that included getting back to touring.

Lenny Price pictures - The story of how two gifts altered his life

“Lenny would never have been able to tour on dialysis,” said Dr. Brandenberger. “Giving him that back was one of the most special things we could have done. You get your life back after transplant. You don’t just get time back. There is more to life than being alive. You get to live again.”

The Virginia Mason Franciscan Health Transplant Center in Seattle is a leader in kidney transplant procedures in the region. Virginia Mason Franciscan Health is also the first medical center in the Pacific Northwest to earn designation as a Donor Care Network Center of Excellence by the National Kidney Registry.

“Our team takes care of the whole patient – and not just the patient, but their family as well,” said Dr. Brandenberger. “We care about our patients, and we understand they are going through something that can feel overwhelming and scary, and we want them to know we are here for them. It’s our identity, and it’s what drives us.”

The team works closely across specialities, another personalized differentiator in care. 

In 2021, Lenny’s phone rang with joyful news. They had a kidney. Lenny headed to Virginia Mason Medical Center, and there he received the gift of life. 

The transplant was a success. It was like a light switch had been flipped. Almost immediately, he felt like a different person. Within days, he was walking up hills and finding newfound freedom. Where he was winded before, he felt rejuvenated. 

On April 30, Lenny will be 1,000 days post transplant – and his dreams are bigger than ever. Serendipitously, April 30 is also International Jazz Day. Lenny said he knows how he will be celebrating.

“I will certainly be playing my saxophone,” he said, laughing. 

With his new kidney, which he affectionately named Kenny, he’s planning a new tour, one that will raise money for the hospitals and providers who helped give him a second chance, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health. 

Lenny says he’s incredibly grateful for his care teams, including Dr. Brandenberger, his transplant surgeon. 

To the deceased donor’s family, Lenny had a special message. 

“I hope I’m honoring the memory of your loved one,” Lenny said. “That drives me every day.”

Lenny spent more than 5,616 hours on dialysis. Today, he’s lived 24,000 hours post transplant.

Lenny Price post-transplant