By Kaitlyn Schaeffer
In 2012, 4,903 people died while waiting for a kidney transplant. The average wait is three to five years. Today there are more than 77,000 people sitting on the waiting list with their fingers crossed. Those in need of kidney transplants typically require three dialysis sessions per week, which take 4-5 hours each. These treatments are taxing and brutal: dialysis patients are four times as likely than the average American to develop depression, and more than 70% of dialysis patients choose with withdraw from treatment.
Policies seeking to rectify the kidney shortage come in two varieties: allowing donors to be paid for their organs and prioritizing organ allocation on the basis of donor status. The former would compensate donors with cash, like blood and plasma donors, but this possibility raises important ethical considerations about whether this policy would exploit the nation’s poor. The latter policy would grant who are organ donors a prioritized status on a waitlist should those people find themselves (or in some cases, their children) in need of an organ donation. A version of this policy was implemented in Israel in 2012; as a result, both living and deceased donations have risen and waitlist deaths have fallen by 30%.
Currently, the United States government shows no sign of adopting either policy suggestion, so the best tool available for increasing national donations are transplant chains. The National Kidney Registry, a non-profit computerized matching service, helps facilitate large national exchanges, where potential donor organs are matched with highly compatible recipients (like an eHarmony for organs). Altruistic donors can catalyze large chain reactions when they donate organs. When Dimitri Linde decided to altruistically donate his kidney, he was matched with a patient over 1,000 miles away. The kidney that patient was supposed to receive before Dimitri’s donation was then matched by NKR to a more compatible recipient, and so on. The typical NKR chain results in six transplants, but one mega-chain resulted in 60 happy customers. Organizations like NKR reduce time on the kidney transplant waitlist by half, saving thousands of lives.
While donating does require surgery, the process by which kidneys are removed these days is safe and recovery time is relatively quick. Dimitri spent 36 hours in the hospital after his operation and had fully recovered three days later. Living with one kidney does not increase the likelihood of developing kidney disease and does not require any permanent dietary or lifestyle changes, although donors are cautioned against taking gym supplements or ibuprofen pharmaceuticals. Dimitri is very happy with his decision to be an altruistic donor, and encourages everyone to do the same.
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