Give the Gift of Life

Dr. Beth Sullivan | July 12th, 2019

Nearly 100,000 people are currently waiting for a kidney transplant. In fact, more people are waiting for a match because of kidney failure than all other organs combined. On Wednesday word is spread all over social media that former NFL defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth was in desperate need of a kidney due to the failure of his kidneys. He posted on Instagram that the time had come to ask for help and fans and media alike have been spreading his plea for help on social media platforms far and wide. Another NFL player who has already gone through a kidney transplant is former Bills wide receiver, Donald Jones. Jones has written a book, The Next Quarter, about his experiences before during and after the transplant. Information about obtaining the book is available at DonaldJones.info. It is a great read.

People hear all the time about transplants when someone dies and their family agrees for the deceased person’s organs to be used for transplants, but another avenue that is being used more and more for both kidney and liver transplants is the living donor transplant. In this case, a living person volunteers to be a donor for a family member, friend, or even a complete stranger.

The first requirement in being a kidney donor is having two healthy kidneys. You can live with only one and the other will be for the recipient. If you are interested in donating for a particular person, the next step is to contact the transplant center where the recipient is registered. In Haynesworth’s case, this is Vanderbilt University Hospital 615-936-0695 option 2. The transplant center will arrange for an evaluation to determine if you are healthy enough and a match for the recipient. If you are a match, healthy, and willing to donate, you and the recipient can schedule the transplant at a time that works for both of you and the surgeons performing the operations. 

If you are not a match for the intended recipient, but still want to donate your kidney so that the recipient you know can receive a kidney that is a match, paired kidney exchange may be an option for you. Your kidney goes to someone in your area who is a match and the person you were wanting to donate to receive a kidney from another person in the program. Making an inquiry at a transplant center does not obligate you to donate, but if you do agree to the evaluation, your interest in being a living donor is notated.

Risks and Benefits

It goes without saying that being a living donor is a huge benefit to the recipient. Recipients of a living donor kidney usually live longer, healthier lives compared to those who receive a deceased donor kidney. There can be benefits to the donor, as well. The donor has the knowledge that they were instrumental in saving the life of another person. In addition, the medical and psychological evaluation the donor will undergo as part of the evaluation process will give the donor a greater understanding of their health and also may identify measures they need to address to improve their overall state of health.

As with any surgical procedure, being a kidney donor does impart some risk to the donor. However, as a kidney donor, the risk of having kidney failure later in life is not any higher than it is for someone in the general population of a similar age, sex or race. The normal risks of surgical procedures exist for donors the same as with any other surgical procedure. These will be explained in great detail during the evaluation process at the transplant center.

In general, surgery risks include infection, pain, feeling tired, hernia at the incision site, blood clots, pneumonia, nerve injury and bowel obstruction. Some people who donate an organ may also experience anxiety, depression, or fear after the surgery. Financial stress can also come as a result of the donation, as the donor will need to take four to six weeks off work for the procedure and recovery.  Normally, the donor is in the hospital one to three days and then continue their recovery at home. The transplant coordinators can assist the donor in managing these stresses.

Evaluation Process

If a person wants to be a living donor, they will need to have a complete medical exam to be sure they are healthy enough to donate a kidney. Some of the tests needed may include bloodwork, urinalysis, Pap Smear or Prostrate exam, colonoscopy if over age 50 or if there is a family history of this condition, chest x-ray, electrocardiogram and other tests that the evaluating physician may deem necessary. The donor and a spouse (if applicable) will also meet with a psychologist and an Independent Living Donor Advocate to be sure the donor and their family are mentally and emotionally ready to donate a kidney and help during the donor’s recovery.

Once all of the evaluation is completed, if the donor is found to be healthy enough, and tests reveal they are well-matched to the person getting your kidney, and no psychological issues preventing donation have been identified the donor may be approved to donate their kidney.

If you think you might be interested in becoming a donor, you can get additional information at the following sites:

Register Me

This is the site to register to be an organ donor after your death. It does the same thing that electing to be an organ donor when you get your driver’s license.

Transplant Blog

This is a blog with contributions from all aspects of the transplant community. A lot of great and useful insight into the topic.

Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network

Registry of hospitals, labs and other resources that deal with organ transplantation.

I hope after reading this you will consider helping to give the gift of life either now, as a living donor, or as a post-death organ donor. Someone will be glad you did.

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Main Image Credit:  Embed from Getty Images

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