By Kathy Hubbard
His friends describe him as one who would give you the shirt off his back. He took that axiom a step further. When a co-worker explained that the reason for lengthy absences was due to needing a new kidney, he said, “Take one of mine, I have two,” or words to that effect.
Many of us know guys like this. And, maybe you’ve wondered about becoming a living organ donor. Most transplanted organs come from deceased donors. Perhaps you marked the appropriate box when obtaining or renewing your drivers’ license.
“All people should consider themselves potential organ and tissue donors – regardless of age, health, race, or ethnicity,” www.organdonor.gov says. “Don’t rule yourself out! No one is too old or too young to be a deceased donor, and most major religions support donation.”
But what about living donors? Of the more than 100,000 people on the national transplant waiting list, around 85 percent are waiting for a kidney. The average wait for a deceased donor is three to five years. That’s a long time and a whole lot of dialysis.
The alternative is to find a living donor. Most often, the donor is a close family member. The first kidney transplant was performed in 1954, and the donor was the recipient’s twin brother. But close friends and even strangers may also have the potential to be a perfect match.
“A kidney is the most frequently donated organ from a living donor,” Organdonor says. “The donor’s remaining kidney provides the necessary function needed to remove waste from the body.”
It’s not just about kidneys; living donors can also donate part of the liver, lung, pancreas, or intestine. Tissues donated by living donors include skin, bone, healthy cells from bone marrow and umbilical cord blood; amnion, donated after childbirth, and blood including white and red blood cells, platelets, and the serum carries blood cells throughout the circulatory system.
“The decision to become a living donor involves careful consideration and is a voluntary one,” The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) explains. Potential donors are evaluated to ascertain if they will be suitable.
“The evaluation is performed to make sure that no adverse physical, psychological, or emotional outcome will occur – before, during, or following the donation,” they say. “The benefit of saving another by becoming a living donor must be weighed carefully against the risks that come with any major surgical procedure, as well as financial considerations.”
A living donor should be at least 18 years old and be in good physical and mental health. Good physical health includes not being overweight (BMI over 35), not having kidney or heart disease, diabetes, or cancer. You’re also not a viable candidate if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, hepatitis C, HIV, drug or alcohol problems.
UNOS stresses that no one should feel they MUST donate. This is a personal decision, and one shouldn’t feel strong-armed into doing it.
“A good donor candidate has a solid grasp of the risks, benefits, and potential outcomes, both good and bad, for both the donor and recipient.”
It’s important to think about the practical side. A living donor must have the ability to take at least two to three weeks off work or out of school for the surgery, not counting the time for all the tests, interviews, and pre-op appointments. On the financial front, it’s not just about the potential of lost wages. Although the recipient picks up most medical expenses, the living donor should double-check their insurance benefits and qualification policies.
“Donating can be selfless and rewarding, and studies have shown that living donors live just as long as people who never donated,” UNOS says. At the top of the emotional and social pros list is feeling a sense of happiness, reward, satisfaction, and relief because most transplant patients have much better health after their transplant.
But there are downsides. The list of possible health-related issues (short-term and long-term) is extensive. And, on the emotional front is the reality that not all transplant recipients’ bodies accept the new organ.
That said, more often, the good outweighs the bad. It’s certainly worth looking into to see if it’s right for you.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.