Can “B Positive” Earn a B+?

Between you and me, “B Positive,” the new CBS sitcom about a guy needing a kidney, isn’t bad. I mean, I’ve always been a fan of dark humor, so I wasn’t put off by the idea. But I was sure they’d go for the cheap laughs and get it all wrong–just adding to all the misconceptions about kidney disease, donation, dialysis, and transplant.

So far, I’m pleasantly surprised but still on the fence. I give it a B+ for some of the key interactions, like his difficulty processing the news from his doctor that his kidneys are failing; his hesitance and difficulty in telling his 12-year-old daughter that he needs a transplant; his almost-ex-wife’s shock and “surprising” (to him) concern to learn that he needs a kidney. Honestly, they all ring true and have just the right measure of realism and humor. Of course his zany donor’s unorthodox lifestyle and dangerous tendencies drive him up the wall, and his over-the-top behavior in tracking her movements must surely feel tempting to lots of dialysis patients in that situation.

Viewers unfamiliar with the subject of living donation may think it far fetched that anyone would immediately offer their kidney to someone they hadn’t seen in 20 years or so, on hearing of their plight. Obviously, it doesn’t happen very often, but the truth is, lots of living donors who have donated to someone they didn’t know will tell you that they somehow just knew they wanted to do it or felt “a calling.” They read a story or met someone or just heard about someone’s urgent need. So, no, the offer from Drew’s flaky donor Gina, isn’t the problem either.

Where it falls down is in giving the patently false, harmful impression (1) that all you need is a compatible blood type and a warm body, and poof, you too can donate your kidney. Transplant centers make sure that a donor is not only healthy enough to donate but that doing so wouldn’t jeopardize the potential donor’s own health. I don’t remember seeing any reference to Gina’s undergoing an extensive medical evaluation plus interviews with a psychologist. Seems like there’s plenty of room there for both humor and education, given her issues with alcohol and drugs; and (2) that dialysis is anything more than an inconvenient appointment he’s always late for, and where he’s cooped up with vaguely annoying people.

What about the “inconvenience” of being stuck with needles, the lethargy, the dietary constraints of dialysis? Again, the show could still educate with plenty of humor. I can already see Drew trying to resist cravings for forbidden high-potassium foods like tomatoes and bananas and cantaloupes and brussels sprouts.

So…that’s where we come in.

It would be great if everyone with an interest in kidney disease and living donation would follow the show and give feedback to keep it honest. I watched a recent Q&A with the show’s creator, Mark Pennette, whose own experience inspired B Positive. He had a kidney transplant from a living donor 7 years ago and spent 5 months on dialysis while waiting. In the interview, he said, “I really do want to be realistic.” That said, we all recognize that there has to be some dramatic license and sitcom exaggerations and such. But he did say “I really hope we’ve struck a balance between reality and entertainment.”

So let the show’s creator and writers know what you think and hold them accountable. Donate Life Hollywood’s Activate App makes it easy. Here’s a perfect opportunity to make our voices heard. I’d love to see the show succeed, wouldn’t you?

Donation and Hollywood Endings

When we see a movie or TV show on a medical topic we know a lot about, we may roll our eyes when they take dramatic license, but we often just shrug it off. When the subject is something people are less familiar with, like organ donation and living donation, a flawed story can make a lasting and dangerous impression. Donate Life Hollywood is trying to do something about it.

Story lines that mislead and even scare people (like a macabre thriller about an organ recipient) from registering as donors can cost lives. With 112,000+ people usually waiting years for an organ from a deceased donor in this country, every time someone decides not to register as an organ donor, the wait is that much longer. Donate Life Hollywood wants to hold Hollywood accountable and offer filmmakers accurate, real-life stories from donor families, recipients, and living donors.

You can download the free app, which offers an easy, convenient way to “report-a-myth.” The app lets me know when a new movie or TV episode with a donation-related story is about to air, so donors and advocates like me can check it out and let them know if the writers got it right. The app also includes up-to-date information on organ, eye, and tissue donation, with FAQs, and resources. Check out the Activate App here.

Admittedly, some exciting aspects of medical dramas are comparatively innocuous. One of my favorite TV shows years ago was “ER.” My heart would race as my favorite docs ran out to the parking lot when an ambulance pulled up. I think I knew that wasn’t happening much if ever in real life. (That certainly wasn’t the case when we came tearing up to the hospital 30 years ago as I was giving birth to my daughter in a Subaru—but that’s another story.)

There are already plenty of harmful myths about organ donation and living donation—we can’t afford to let Hollywood perpetuate them. Let’s help educate the story makers and be part of the solution!