Here’s to You, Living Donors!

During Donate Life Month, the focus is typically on urging people to register to be donors after their death to try to meet the critical organ shortage. More than 100,000 people in the United States are currently waiting for an organ, most of them for a kidney. The reality is that, even though registering to donate is extremely important, unfortunately, it’s not sufficient to meet the need. That’s why I’m an advocate and the reason I created this website: to encourage and support people to consider living donation.

This year for the first time, Donate Life Month includes a special day to salute living donors: April 7 is Donate Life Living Donor Day! The large photo below–the same one that graces the front page of this website–was taken almost exactly three years ago at the Bean in Chicago. We were quite a mixed bunch, mostly kidney donors but a few liver donors as well–such as the woman from India who donated to her husband (they were there with their two beautiful children, in fact). That weekend I met donors of all ages and regions. Some had given to family members, to friends, to someone they barely knew, and several even gave to someone they’d never met and still hadn’t years later. It was an inspiring, emotional, and extremely fun weekend.

Living Donors Rally, April 21, 2018, in Chicago–we set a Guinness World Record for largest gathering of living donors! Do you see me?

In addition to adding to the number of available organs, living donation has several bonuses. Having a living donor typically produces a better outcome for the patient. It’s usually a better match, the surgery can be scheduled under optimal conditions, and, most important of all, it lasts longer. For a kidney recipient, that can be double the lifespan they might have after a transplant from a deceased donor. And even though living kidney donation is definitely major surgery, virtually all donor surgeries are done with minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, which makes a big difference in both pain and time to bounce back. It was much easier than this self-described wimp had ever expected.

Another bonus: every time someone who’s on the national waiting lists for a deceased donor finds a living donor and is removed from the list, that obviously shortens the list accordingly. So, in addition to helping the recipient, donors are indirectly helping countless others as well.

So here’s to you/us living donors! Please think about learning more on the subject, ask questions, think some more, and consider joining our ranks. Studies find that the vast majority of living donors have no regrets. I know it was the proudest day of my life.

Happy World Kidney Day–with a shout-out to women!

March 12 is World Kidney Day, and it seems fitting to continue our theme of women and kidneys (two of my favorite subjects). In a recent post, I pointed out that neither gets the respect and attention they/we deserve. It’s mostly because most people just don’t know a whole lot about what they do: in the case of women, we hold up half the sky, as the African proverb says. And kidneys do much the same for the body, quietly keeping it functioning as it should, balancing nutrients, eliminating dangerous toxins, regulating fluids and salt content, promoting bone health. I could go on.

Now how do I tie this back to women, you ask? Let’s consider living kidney donors. Not surprisingly, most are women. When I participated in setting the Guinness World Record for largest gathering of living donors in April 2018, it was clear that the vast majority of us donors there were women. Now, it’s tempting to say that’s all due to our natural empathy and nurturing instincts. I do believe that’s partly responsible, but I know it’s more complicated than that.

For one thing, donating a kidney, like any major surgery, usually entails taking off work for at least a couple of weeks, if you have a sedentary job as I did (editor/writer). If you’re a laborer, however, because of a restriction on lifting anything over 10 pounds for about the first 6 weeks after surgery, that obviously could mean a lot longer interruption.

Donors who are lucky enough to have sufficient paid sick leave (or any at all) don’t have to worry about lost pay. But for anyone who doesn’t, that’s a major road block to being a live donor. The reality is that, in a lot of families, it’s still harder to get by without the man’s earnings. The National Living Donor Assistance Center has been offering much-needed financial help with travel and lodging costs for some donors who need to travel to their recipient’s transplant center. It’s a wonderful program, but it hasn’t covered lost pay and other uncovered expenses. Now there’s a plan to significantly expand that assistance to cover a donor’s lost pay and major “incidental” expenses like child care and elder care. But it needs a major boost in funding from the House Appropriations Committee. Please contact your representative and tell him or her to get behind this important effort. Helping living donors helps to save lives.

Guinness Living Donors Record!

Woohoo! Got my commemorative living donors rally tee shirt in the mail, and it has my name on it with the other Guinness record holders! If you zoom in, you just may be able to find my name in the upper left quadrant–alphabetized under “C.”

What a memorable weekend that was! Several living donors gathered at the Bean again this year for an informal reunion. On one hand, I was sorry to miss it–I would have loved to see so many people I met last year. On the other hand, though, I’d kind of like to keep that warm memory special. A reunion couldn’t possibly capture the excitement and the emotion, which I tried to describe in a Facebook post soon after it.