AST Past-President Kenneth Newell featured in USA Today Supplement "Transplants: The Gift of Life Campaign"
Making Donors Whole Again: How Can We Give Back?
Since 2004, the number of living kidney donations in the U.S. has been in decline. Many blame this trend on the high cost of donation, and some are working to rewrite the rules.
Kenneth Newell, MD, PhD, AST Immediate Past-President
Last year, about 17,000 people with kidney failure received the gift of life through organ donation. Remarkably, each year about 6,000 of these organs come from living donors: people who choose to literally give of themselves to save others.
Knowing the odds
Kidney donation is not the only type of living donation, but it is the most common. Kidneys from living donors have better outcomes than kidneys from deceased persons, and major medical advances have made kidney donation easier on the donors. Through the use of smaller incisions and laparoscopic techniques, donors spend fewer days in the hospital and recover faster after the surgery.
Over 100,000 people are currently waiting to receive these life-saving kidneys. Continued advances in living donation are critical in the fight against kidney failure.
In 2004, the number of living kidney donors in the United States peaked at 6,647. However, living kidney donation has declined since that time. The reasons for this decline are unknown, but many suspect that donors find themselves unable to assume the financial costs—known as disincentives—that may be associated with living kidney donation.
Throughout the donation process, living donors need to pay for lodging, food and transportation to and from the transplant center, which can include expensive airfare. Donors may need to pay for childcare or elder care during evaluations and post-surgery recovery time.
These expenses come on top of potential lost wages while donors are unable to work during surgery and recovery. Living donors also need to consider the potential impact of living kidney donation on their insurability.
Fighting for donors
The current living donation system in the United States is purely altruistic. However, even the most altruistic of individuals can be deterred from doing a good deed if that deed comes with significant, sometimes unaffordable, costs.
Imagine wanting to help a family member, friend, or acquaintance by giving them a kidney to improve and even extend their life. Now imagine being unable to help, due to the costs and the financial impact on your own family and future.
Leaders from several key industry groups have been working on strategies to remove these disincentives to living donation. Through meetings with government agencies and payers, they are working to ensure that no one who wants to donate life finds themselves unable to for financial reasons.
Living donors give of themselves to make sick patients whole. We need to ask ourselves, how can we protect our living donors? How can we make them whole?
We can start by making sure living donors never have to pay to give the gift of a life-saving organ. This is an important step toward shortening the wait list, saving lives, and treating living donors like the heroes they are.