Did you ever read about the kidney patient who wore a tee shirt at Disney World emblazoned with a plea for a donor (and found one)? Or maybe you’ve heard of people putting up a sign on their car or on a sandwich board saying they’re looking for a type O donor. Were you moved–or puzzled?
If you have a loved one or acquaintance who needs a kidney, you probably have a good idea of why people might go to such lengths to find a live donor. Aside from the inescapable reality that there simply aren’t enough deceased-donor organs available in general (about 113,000 Americans are waiting for one), live donation offers very real advantages. Here are just few big ones:
1-The wait is much shorter. Kidney patients in the United States may spend 5 to 10 years on the wait list for a deceased donor. About 16 patients die every day because they haven’t received the life-saving organ in time. If you have a live donor, your wait could be a matter of months instead of years.
2-Because a live-donor transplant can be scheduled—as opposed to a patient waiting for “the call” that a potential kidney match has become available (and needing to get to the transplant center within hours)—it can be done under optimal conditions. That means at the donor’s convenience but also when the patient is at his or her strongest. If one or the other is even mildly sick when the transplant is scheduled, it can be postponed for a few weeks till conditions are just right.
3-The two surgeries are typically done at the same time and often on the same corridor (with the notable exception of some paired donations, which often are hundreds of miles apart). The shorter time that the kidney is removed from the blood supply—sometimes a matter of minutes—the sooner it will “wake up” and start to function in the recipient’s body.
4-Because the kidney starts to work immediately, the patient often begins to “pink up” and feel better the same day. With a deceased-donor kidney, there’s sometimes a delay of a few weeks, during which the patient generally needs to be on dialysis.
5-For all of these reasons and more, a live-donor kidney typically lasts significantly longer than one from a deceased-donor: an average of 15 to 20 years versus 10 to 15 with a deceased donor. But I know of many recipients of live kidneys who have had theirs for more than 30 years—the record is a jaw-dropping 50 years! Deceased-donor kidneys only rarely last more than 30 years.
If you think the benefits of live donation are only for the recipient, see my post on the benefits of live donation for the donor!