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Patients waiting for a lifesaving transplant rely heavily on the public to make the choice to be organ donors. The shortage of deceased donor organs has reached a crisis, with almost 120,000 people in need of a lifesaving organ nationwide. Over 3,000 of those are Mayo Clinic patients. For kidney, liver and bone marrow transplant, living donors can help shorten the wait time for many patients.
According to data from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), in the United States in 2012, there were 5,617 kidney transplants from living donors; 161 of those were from anonymous donors. In 1992, there were 2,534 kidney transplants from living donors; and none of those were from anonymous donors. Despite the increase in living donor transplants, however, there are now twice as many people being added to the waiting list each year, compared to the waiting list 20 years ago.
A recent survey found that nearly half of Americans would consider donating to a complete stranger — a statistic that has more than doubled in the past decade. It is becoming increasingly common for people to donate to family, friends and even strangers. Mayo Clinic performs about 250 living donor transplants per year. To help facilitate the increased interest from potential living donors, Mayo Clinic has developed an online form for people interested in living donation. This form provides flexibility to potential donors who can provide their information outside of business hours and is delivered securely to one of Mayo Clinic’s transplant nurse coordinators. The form can be used for donors who know their intended recipient, or who wish to donate anonymously.
One such donor is Phil Fischer, M.D., a pediatrician from the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center. Dr. Fischer tells how a patient in need of a kidney transplant touched his heart and prompted him to explore anonymous living donation, sometimes referred to as Good Samaritan, non-directed or altruistic donation. Dr. Fischer’s selfless act of donation enabled a woman in need of a kidney to live a full life, enjoying her grandchildren and dancing.
Dr. Fischer is available to talk with the media about his experience, and Mikel Prieto, M.D., is available to talk about living kidney donation and transplantation.
Advantages of a living donor
While the outcomes for transplant patients who receive deceased donor organs are very good, transplants performed from living donors can have several advantages:
• Some living donor transplants are done between family members who are genetically similar. A better genetic match lessens the risk of rejection.
• A kidney from a living donor usually functions immediately, making it easier to monitor. Some deceased donor kidneys do not function immediately, and, as a result, the patient may require dialysis until the kidney starts to function.
• Potential donors can be tested ahead of time to find the donor who is most compatible with the recipient. The transplant can take place at a time convenient for the donor and recipient.
• A living donor can sometimes start a chain of transplants, called a paired exchange, thereby saving not just one life, but several.
• A living donor means that a patient no longer needs to languish on the waiting list, hoping and praying that their chance will come, while their health and quality of life declines. They also can avoid getting too sick to have a transplant.
• For every recipient who can get an organ from a living donor, there is one fewer person on the waiting list, thereby giving the remaining people on the list a better chance and more hope of getting a transplant.