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Patients Waiting for Kidneys: Lives Changed by Live Donor Chains

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kidney patients waiting for live donors and changed lives Hemera/Thinkstock

In the United States, 94,293 people were on the waiting list as candidates for a kidney as of 11:55 am EST today, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

An individual would require a kidney transplant if she has kidney failure.

The most common causes in the United States of end-stage kidney disease, in which the kidneys can no longer function in the capacity needed, are high blood pressure and diabetes, according to MedlinePlus.

Patients in need of a kidney can wait several years for a donated organ. While waiting for a kidney, patients need to be on dialysis, a procedure which removes harmful substances from the blood — a function the kidney can no longer do.

Patients undergoing dialysis may need to have treatment three times a week, with each session lasting three to four hours.

To find a kidney suitable for the patient, the patient and kidney must be matched on certain factors: blood type and human leukocyte antigen, or HLA. A third factor, antibodies produced by the patient’s immune system, is also considered when finding a match.

If the patient’s immune system reacts to the donated organ, her body will not be able to accept this.

This is a significant issue for women and minorities waiting for kidney transplantation.

Jeffrey L. Veale, M.D., a UCLA transplant surgeon, explained that minorities, especially Hispanic and black individuals, have naturally higher antibodies. This can make it difficult to find a match for them, and they can sit on the deceased donor list for a long time, up to 10 years.

For women, the difficulty in finding a match may occur after having a baby.

Dr. Veale said that when a woman has a baby with her husband, she is exposed to her husband’s antibodies. If she needs a kidney later, her husband cannot be a donor, as her immune system has already made antibodies from her husband.

That is where living donors come in. Let’s say an individual wants to give a loved one a kidney, but she is not a match. Another person is a match for the loved one needing a kidney and donates that kidney.

Add a Comment3 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Cristy....looks like some well thought out comments, but you can't have it both ways if there's "NO COMPREHENSIVE DATA" where is all your data coming from that you are quoting?

November 1, 2012 - 3:03pm

This article is rife with falsehoods:

- 1/3 of folks on the kidney transplant wait list are 'inactive', meaning they couldn't have a transplant if a kidney became available.

- A transplant is a TREATMENT for end-stage renal disease, it is not a cure. Dialysis also a treatment for ESRD.

- Minority candidates have less access to transplants because A. they often lack access to healthcare, B. they are listed much later in their disease than their white counterparts, C. they more often lack insurance, D. a higher percentage have a rarer blood type (which has nothing to do with sensitivity), and E. they experience geographic disparities due to the uneven nature of the transplant system.

- According to a handout from the 2012 ASHI meeting, 30% of ALL transplant candidates are HLA sensitized. 15% of the wait list has had a prior transplant, the most common source of sensitization. Meanwhile, Women compose 40% of wait list candidates (OPTN data), and 80% of women aged 40-44 have children (US Census). This hardly translates into the article's inference that women who have children will be sensitized to their blood relatives' kidneys.

- ALL living organ donors are altruistic, not just the small portion that participates in a swap/pair or chain.

- No one receives a kidney through UNOS. OPTN is the membership organization under Dept of Health and Human Services which manages the transplant wait list. UNOS is simply the contractor.

And the biggie - a living donor kidney is 'better' than a deceased donor kidney.
Better for whom?

4.4 living kidney donors die in the US every year within 12 months of surgery.

20% experience complications: hernia, pancreatitis, chylous ascities, nerve damage, testicular swelling and sensitivity, etc.

20-30% suffer from depression, anxiety and/or PTSD. Not a single transplant center offers aftercare or support services.

We have NO NATIONAL STANDARDS of living donor care in the US. Every transplant center can make up it's own rules and is accountable to no one.

We have NO COMPREHENSIVE DATA on living donors' health and well-being. More than a decade after a federal mandate, we still have no idea if 35% of living donors are live or dead ONE YEAR after donation. After that, what happens to living donor is anyone's guess because no one bothers to track them.

Meanwhile, the Swiss LD registry reported 49% of their kidney donors with cardiovascular disease, 47% with hypertension and 45% with Stage 3/4 chronic kidney disease at only 10 years post-donation.

As the sister of a kidney transplant recipient, I understand the challenges of kidney disease. However, as a living kidney donor, I find the constant neglect of living donation's risks to the donor (not to mention poorly written articles such as this) to be unethical and dangerous. The public should never be viewed as medical supply. Living donors are people too.


October 31, 2012 - 2:38pm
EmpowHER Guest

How about the legals to become a donor if he/she from outside of US?
And what is the procedures to take to become a donor in US if I'm a foreigner?

October 31, 2012 - 1:38pm
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