When a person’s kidneys fail, there are two forms of treatment available: dialysis and transplant.
While dialysis replaces some of the functions done by healthy kidneys, a successful kidney transplant offers people suffering from kidney failure a much better quality of life, considerably greater freedom, increased energy levels and a less restricted diet.
“Studies show that people who receive kidney transplants live longer than those who remain on dialysis,” says Radi Zaki, MD, Co-Chairman of the Department of Transplantation, Division of Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation, at Einstein Healthcare Network.
Of course, waiting for a kidney transplant isn’t as simple as scheduling a surgery.
There are currently more than 100,000 people waiting for lifesaving kidney transplants in the United States, with someone added to the list every 14 minutes and an average wait time for a kidney transplant around three and a half years.
However, there is one option that allows patients to significantly expedite their kidney transplant.
Living Kidney Donor Transplantation at Einstein
For patients in need of a kidney transplant, receiving a donor kidney from a relative, friend or even acquaintance eliminates the often years-long wait for a suitable organ.
Not only does a living kidney donor accelerate the transplant process, it’s also the safer option for transplant.
“A living donor kidney is simply the better option for kidney transplant,” says Dr. Zaki. “The outcomes are just significantly better than deceased donation in terms of organ survival, recovery and the recipient’s quality of life moving forward.”
From evaluation and preparation to surgery and recovery, Einstein’s kidney transplant team works collectively to design lifesaving transplant programs for each patient.
“We offer unprecedented acumen, support and care catered to every individual,” says Dr. Zaki. “By bringing together physicians, surgeons, nurses, behavioral and dietary specialists, coordinators and social workers our patient-centered approach delivers remarkable outcomes and focuses on a full recovery.
“And we always recommend that patients identify a living kidney donor.”
What is a Living Kidney Donor?
Donating a kidney is a generous act that can help improve another person’s life.
Living donation takes place when a living person donates an organ, or part of an organ, to another person, and kidneys are the most commonly donated organs. The living donor can be a family member, friend, spouse, acquaintance or even a total stranger.
“There are many myths about what happens when you donate a kidney, but they are all patently false,” says Dr. Zaki. “You don’t have to stop drinking alcohol or completely change your diet after you donate your kidney. You’ll be able to do all of your regular activities, from exercise and athletics to sex and having a child.
“Aside from the typical post-operative procedures and guidelines, depending on your health before surgery, you will have no problem continuing with a normal, healthy life.”
To become a living kidney donor, potential donors must be at least 18 years old and be in good physical and mental health. They also must have normal kidney function.
There are some medical conditions that could prevent people from being a living donor, from uncontrolled high blood pressure and diabetes, to cancer, HIV, hepatitis or acute infections. Having a serious mental health condition that requires treatment may also prevent you from being a donor.
There are four types of living kidney donation:
- Direct donation: the donor typically knows the recipient and donates directly to them. However, the donor must clear a few hurdles to make sure they are compatible with their recipient, including being healthy, having the right blood type and passing a cross match test.
- Paired exchange donation: a donor may enter into a paired exchange where they donate their kidney to a more compatible recipient in order to get a compatible kidney for their loved one.
- Advanced donation: a paired exchange separated by time, this allows donors to donate their kidney before their intended recipient receives one. Some advanced donations happen just a few months before their intended recipient is transplanted, known as short term cases, while others may be years in advance, known as voucher cases, with the hope that their intended recipient will never need a transplant.
- Good Samaritan donation: also known as non-directed donation, the donor is giving to a stranger, which initiates a chain of transplants. Chains are a way to help many patients with kidney failure get transplanted, as chains typically feature anywhere from two to 30 transplants, and facilitate better donor-recipient matches.
What is a Kidney Champion?
While providing a kidney to someone as a living donor is an incredibly generous gift, asking someone to donate a kidney isn’t so easy.
Oftentimes, this conversation is a difficult one to have. That’s why patients are encouraged to identify a Kidney Champion—someone close to them who can help advocate on their behalf for a living donor kidney.
Anyone can be a Kidney Champion for someone who is in need of a kidney transplant. The champion is in charge of sharing the patient’s need for a living kidney donor and keeps their friends and family updated throughout the process. They network with the patient’s friends, family, co-workers and social groups (such as faith-based organizations or community groups) to provide education and help refer potential living donors for evaluation.
“Kidney Champions are a vital resource,” says Dr. Zaki. “They let your loved ones know that their family member, friend or acquaintance has kidney failure. The Einstein team will provide them with educational resources about kidney disease, treatment options and living kidney donation information, with the goal of helping to find a living donor.”
“As waiting lists continue to grow and the supply of deceased donors continues to decrease, Kidney Champions are more important than ever.”