It’s a matter of supply and demand: when it comes to kidney transplants, more people need a kidney than there are people willing to donate. The result is waiting lists. But transplant centers aren’t willing to wait idly.
“We are trying to explore new ways to open up this option to more people,” says Barbara Miller, director of the kidney transplant center with Lee Memorial Health System.
To overcome the shortage, the transplantation process is now less reliant on deceased donors; instead putting effort into living donor transplants.
“In the traditional living donor transplant, either a blood relative or an emotionally related person primarily donates one of their kidneys to a loved on. We expect to do somewhere between 12 and 20 of this kind of transplant this year,” says Miller.
Advances like laparoscopic kidney removal is helping make living donations safer. It should reduce donor’s pain and shorten their recovery time to around two weeks.
“A lot of our donors are still working, so it’s very important for those folks to get back to work. If they have to recover from a very large incision then depending on their job they may have to be out six to eight weeks,” says Dr. Barry Blitz, laparoscopic surgeon with Lee Memorial Health System.
Thanks to new approaches and heightened awareness, support for kidney donation has more than doubled since 2001. A recent study by the Mayo Clinic found 84% of people surveyed would consider donating if a loved one was in need. Almost 50% might give to a person they never met.
That’s generating interest in paired kidney exchanges, something the transplant center at Gulf Coast Medical Center is pursuing.
“What paired donation has done is allow us to expand that donor pool. If we have a potential recipient here for whom the donor is not a good match that donor is able to donate to another recipient in another center. And we have a donor in another center able to donate to our recipient here,” says Miller.
Encouraging news for people waiting for their name to be called.