Bhavan Patel was a seemingly healthy student at Mercer University when an internship led to a shocking discovery: His kidneys were failing.
It’s been a rocky road filled with doctor’s appointments, procedures and hours-long treatments since that diagnosis two years ago, but these experiences have only strengthened his desire to one day become a doctor. Patel graduated in May 2021 with a degree in biochemistry and molecular biology, despite his health struggles.
Now, he waits and hopes for a kidney transplant, so he can go to medical school and make his dream come true.
As a junior in fall 2019, Patel was a participant in the Patienthood and Professional Internship for pre-health students. Interns in the program act as patients so that first- and second-year medical students can learn routine skills. Some medical students were taking turns checking Patel’s blood pressure manually one day, and his blood pressure kept reading higher and higher.
The clinical professor confirmed it was high, as did School of Medicine Dean Dr. Jean Sumner, who made a doctor’s appointment for Patel for the next day.
“I was healthy in my own way, doing all the things that a normal person would do. Nothing was out of the ordinary,” he said. “The situation escalated so quickly in two weeks.”
Patel hadn’t experienced any physical symptoms to make him think he was anything other than healthy, but that doctor’s appointment and subsequent tests said otherwise. His kidney function was at 10 percent, meaning he had end-stage renal disease. He saw a nephrologist a few days later and was sent straight to the hospital and admitted.
“When Dr. Carol Bokros (director of pre-health professions advising) and I visited (Patel) in the hospital, he was surrounded by family and friends, and the love and support in the room was palpable,” said Academic Resource Center (ARC) Assistant Director Tamar Cantwell, who got to know Patel when he joined the ARC’s peer tutoring team in fall 2019. Patel demonstrated his subject mastery by serving as a tutor for 10 different course subjects. “Despite everything Bhavan had gone through at that point, he was cheerful, making jokes, and willing to explain, in clinical detail, the procedures he had undergone — more proof of the excellent doctor we need him to become.”
Soon after, Patel started kidney dialysis, which he does every night through a machine at his home in Warner Robins. His treatments have since been increased from nine to 12 hours because his kidney function has decreased even more.
Patel’s doctor immediately started the process to get him on Emory University’s kidney transplant wait list, although it took until December 2020 for everything to be finalized. Thorough testing during the evaluation process revealed that a kink in Patel’s ureter had caused the kidney damage.
“I can live a normal life, as normal as it can be,” Patel said. “But at the same time, I still have to come back to my machine. I’m OK with it now, but at first, the psychological effect of that was hard on me. I kept asking, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ I’ve learned now that I can’t think like that. It’s life. It happens. If it didn’t happen to me, it would happen to someone else, and maybe they couldn’t handle it.
“Maybe God chooses the person who can handle the situation. The dialysis and kidney failure broke me, but it also gives me a purpose. I hope that other people don’t have to go through it. That fuels me into wanting to be a doctor myself.”
Patel had to take a little time off from school, but he graduated in May 2021 with a 3.9 GPA, just 0.1 less than before his diagnosis. He said there were times it was a struggle to study and keep going, but his desire to be a doctor fueled him to finish his bachelor’s degree. He hopes to be a nephrologist or maybe even a transplant surgeon one day.
“I was amazed at his ability to keep a positive attitude through his hospitalization and subsequent treatment,” said Bokros, who is also the instructor for the Patienthood and Professional Internship and adviser for Mercer’s chapter of the national pre-health honor society, Alpha Epsilon Delta, to which Patel was a member. “He has always wanted to be a doctor, but being a patient really changed his perspective — he now feels a deeper calling to serve others as a physician than he did before. I have been working with Bhavan on his personal statement, medical school applications and interview skills this past year, as he remains hopeful that he will be able to find a donor and continue his education.”
Kidney donation process
If anyone wants to see if they could potentially be a kidney donor for Patel, they need to start out by going to emory.donorscreen.org and filling out the survey. If they pass that screening, they will be directed through a medical evaluation process to determine if they can donate and if their kidney is a match for Patel.
If a person wants to give a kidney to Patel and is a proper match, he would receive the transplant. If the person is not a match but still wishes to give a kidney to someone in need, Patel could still potentially get a kidney through an “exchange program” that allows two donors with intended recipients to essentially swap who they help. Anyone with questions about the process can call Patel at (478) 951-8829.