More and more patients with kidney disease are experiencing the miracle of organ donation for a simple reason: living donors. Approximately 50 percent of kidney transplants are now from live donors. Many donors are family members, but a growing number are friends and even strangers.
Women outnumber men when it comes to living donation; 63 percent of living donors who come to Ohio State are women. According to the most recent statistics from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, the percentage of women in Ohio registered as an organ, eye and/or tissue donor is 57 percent, compared to 51 percent of Ohio men. This mirrors U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics, which found females were more likely than males to be living donors (60.4 percent).
Why is this? Maybe it is that women can be more empathetic and altruistic than men. Or maybe it is the role of caregiving that many women take. It could be that many women simply have a desire to help someone in need. However, none of those reasons matters to the recipients of this goodwill.
The Facts of Kidney Donation
The Ohio State University Medical Center's transplant program is one of the largest in the country and among the busiest kidney transplant programs in the region. OSU's Comprehensive Transplant Center is the only adult transplant center in central Ohio, performing more than 7,000 transplants since it was established in 1967. It conducts about 225 kidney transplants a year. "Increasingly, people are volunteering to give organs, which is an impressive, heroic kind of activity," says Robert Higgins, MD, MSHA. He is the director of Ohio State's Comprehensive Transplant Center and professor and director of the Division of Cardiac Surgery. "It's a phenomenal gift of life."
"At Ohio State, nearly 600 people are awaiting a kidney transplant," says Todd Pesavento, MD, medical director of Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation. "However, the vast majority of these patients could be helped by a living donor."
The major benefit of living donation for the recipient is that he or she can receive the transplant more quickly, potentially avoiding dialysis. "The wait list for a deceased donor can be many years," explains Dr. Pesavento.
"Transplantation is one of the real 'magical' miracles of medicine," says Dr. Higgins. "People who would in life — not just in death — donate their organ is a fantastically courageous story."
Catherine and Howard Burks
In 2007, when Howard Burks of Columbus went on the wait list for a kidney donor, he started looking for his match. No blood relatives matched, however. So after about a year and a half, his wife, Catherine, was tested. Surprisingly, she was a match — spouses rarely are — and the transplant took place in 2009. "I spent all this time waiting for a donor, and she was right here the whole time," says Howard, who travels with Catherine in their mobile home. "I was happy I was a match and that the surgery came out OK," his wife says. "My main concern was to keep him around as long as possible."
Kimberly and Craig Smith
When Kim Smith of Zanesville was diagnosed with Berger's disease, a disease of the kidneys, her six children volunteered to be tested for kidney donor matching. Son Craig turned out to be the best match.
"I wasn't really scared," says Kim. "I was more scared for Craig, and he was more scared for me. But my husband was a nervous wreck for both of us."
For Craig, the decision to donate wasn't difficult. "It's my mom," he simply states. "I wouldn't be here without her. I just said 'Yes.'"
Beth and Marsheen
While working for the Columbus chapter of the National Kidney Foundation in 2007, Marsheen learned that the daughter of a church friend needed a kidney. Without hesitation, Marsheen volunteered to be a donor to Beth. The two were found to be a great match.
"I see my donation as being a Good Samaritan," says Marsheen. "I'm doing what I can to help someone have a better life."
Beth is confident they will be lifelong friends. "We work on opposite ends of town and have busy lives. But my family and I will always be grateful for what she's done. We both follow each other on Facebook and talk through email."
Jocelyn and Aaron Irwin
While Aaron Irwin was on dialysis, he and his younger sister, Jocelyn, were roommates. "It was hard to watch the toll it took on his health," says Jocelyn. She was found to be the best match, and donated her kidney to her brother in 2009.
"I was excited to help," says Jocelyn. "There's something encouraging about knowing you're giving somebody another life."
"It's like she brought me out of a burning house," says Aaron. "And it sounds cliché, but I really do get a second chance."
"It's like she brought me out of a burning house. And it sounds cliché, but I really do get a second chance."
Ask Your Advocate
Q. How do I know if I can donate?
A. You must be in good health and cannot have diabetes, heart disease or a medical condition that requires you to take daily medication. OSU Transplant Services can evaluate your individual situation and give you advice on living donation. Talk to your primary care doctor about donating. I dream of the day when we can easily cure kidney failure, but in the meantime, I admire people who donate this special gift.
Find a Physician
For more information about scheduling an appointment with OSU Rardin Family Practice or with Dr. Mack, call 800-293-5123.
It's a Match
A program known as the Paired Kidney Exchange helps to pair up willing kidney donors with compatible recipients.
Sometimes, prospective donors learn they are not compatible with their intended recipients.
A regional database helps to arrange these exchanges. The Paired Donor Consortium works as a conduit to share information among hospitals to find matches for pairs of donors and recipients who are otherwise incompatible. The exchange could put a dent in the waiting list for kidney transplants. More than 62,000 people nationwide are on the list.
"Each year, we continue to fall further and further behind in supplying those with end-stage renal disease the organ they so desperately need," says Ronald Pelletier, MD, associate professor of Surgery in the Division of Transplantation at The Ohio State University Medical Center.