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Living Donor Kidney Transplants Can Be Life Savers

Kidney transplant

The recent report about a chain of 60 operations that allowed 30 people who desperately needed a kidney transplant to receive an organ from a living donor may set off a new interest in living donor kidney transplants. The series of surgeries, named Chain 124 by the nonprofit National Kidney Registry, took place over a four-month period and occurred in 11 states in 17 different hospitals.

How the chain of kidney donations started

Briefly, the chain of living donor kidney transplants was triggered by Rick Ruzzamenti, who, at age 44, impulsively decided to donate one of his kidneys to a stranger after hearing that a woman at his yoga studio had donated a kidney to a friend.

Ruzzamenti’s selfless gesture, along with the efforts of Garet Hil, who started the National Kidney Registry after his 10-year-old daughter was diagnosed with kidney failure and struggled to get a transplant, and the power of modern computer technology eventually resulted in 30 people who desperately needed a new kidney being matched up with 30 individuals who were willing to donate one of theirs. In some cases, the donors and kidney recipients were total strangers.

How living kidney donations work
Kidneys are the most common organ donated by a living donor, and they are also the organ most needed. According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, as of February 10, 2012, there were 97,003 people on the waiting list for a kidney in the United States.

Kidneys that come from a living donor have a much better chance of success than do those from a deceased donor. In addition, donated kidneys from deceased individuals are in much shorter supply, and the waiting time can take up to five years.

Although living kidney donors usually offer to give their organ to a family member in need, anyone can donate a kidney as long as he or she meets the criteria and the recipient is compatible. If you want to be considered as a living donor, you need to contact a transplant center in your area to start the process.

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To be considered as a living kidney donor you must meet the following criteria.

  • Donors need to be between the ages of 18 and early 70s
  • Kidney donors must be in good health and have normal kidney anatomy and function. Individuals who have cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, sickle cell disease, HIV, hepatitis, heart disease, or liver disease typically do not qualify as a donor. However, each case is evaluated on an individual basis.
  • Blood and tissue typing tests must show the donor and recipient are compatible. However, donors do not need to be related to the recipient.
  • Donors must undergo a physical examination and psychological evaluation. X-rays and lab tests, including an EKG, will be done to screen for medical conditions that could exclude you from donating a kidney. Results of your routine tests (e.g., mammogram, pap smear, colonoscopy, and so on) may be necessary as well. A computerized tomography (CT) angiogram will be performed to determine the health of your kidneys.
  • Donors typically receive education and counseling before the procedure to prepare for the donation and the recovery process

Kidney transplant procedures
The most commonly used surgical technique to remove a kidney from a living donor is laparoscopic surgery. This method involves making three or four tiny incisions in the abdomen, through which a surgeon can insert a camera and the instruments he or she needs to prepare for organ removal. An additional four-inch incision is then made to remove the kidney.

Another laparoscopic procedure that is gradually becoming more available is a single-incision laparoscopic donor nephrectomy. This technique involves a single one-inch incision that is made through the belly button.

A surgeon uses this incision to maneuver a camera and various instruments to perform the procedure. The incision is stretched slightly to remove the kidney, so the end result is an incision that is about 1.5 inches long. Because the incision is made in the belly button, there is no scar.

In both types of surgery, the stitches are absorbed, so they do not need to be removed. The health risks of donating a kidney are similar to those associated with any major surgery, such as infection or bleeding. Research indicates that donating a kidney does not have a negative effect on the donor’s life expectancy or quality of life.

If you have thought about donating a kidney, you can learn more from the National Kidney Foundation’s Living Donor website. Living donor kidney transplants can be life savers, and your donation could be a chance at life for one of the 97,000 people waiting for a kidney.

National Kidney Foundation
National Kidney Registry
Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network

Image: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons