Photo Courtesy of Sadie Whitehead
You’ve probably heard the term “the gift of life” tied to organ donation -- typically something you think about when you are renewing your driver’s license. There is a tremendous shortage of donated organs and so people die waiting for a transplanted kidney, liver, heart or lungs.
That’s why in recent years friends, family, and even sometimes complete strangers step forward to be a living donor.
A person can live without one of two kidneys, and -- believe it or not -- you can donate part of your liver and your liver will grow back. Obviously being a living donor is making a huge gift and it can have risks for you, although major transplant centers have been minimizing those greatly.
For anyone receiving a donated organ from either someone who died or their very alive best friend, they will almost always have to take a handful of anti-rejection medicines every day for the rest of their life.
This is a big deal because these are powerful medicines that have side effects. They tamp down your immune system so you don’t reject the donated organ, but they also put you at risk for cancer. And, over time, they even put the donated organ at risk of failing.
Lindsay Porter, 47 and a theater director in Chicago, is one of the first people in the world who may avoid this risk. Now, several months after receiving a donated kidney from her dear friend Kurt, she takes no anti-rejection medicines at all.
Porter lives a normal life and says she hardly remembers she had the transplant. “It’s a miracle,” she says.
The “miracle” is due to the groundbreaking research done, in part, at the living donor renal transplant center at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Working with the University of Louisville, researchers did a clinical study.
In the study, Lindsay and seven other patients received blood stem cells from their living donor the day after they received the donated kidney. The idea was to give the recipient part of the donor’s immune system along with the organ, to avoid the need for anti-rejection medicines for life.
So far, it has worked in Lindsay’s case and for five others. It’s worked almost as well for two others.