Almost every day, someone calls the Kidney Donor Information Line to ask about donating a kidney. The reasons are as varied: they have a friend or family member who needs a kidney, they heard about someone who is waiting for a transplant on Facebook or the news, or they “have two and want to give one.” Some people even step forward to donate with no particular transplant candidate in mind.
Why would you donate a kidney?
“Until the day I found out my friend’s 20-year-old daughter needed a kidney transplant, I had never thought about kidney donation,” recalls Lori Heimbichner. “That day I witnessed a mother’s despair and in an instant knew I needed to at least try to do something to help.”
Lori’s kidney donation adventure ended not with donating to her friend’s daughter, but to a stranger who needed a kidney. Her friend’s daughter received a kidney from a younger anonymous donor. Donors who are unable to donate to their intended recipient may donate as part of a paired exchange. They donate to an anonymous recipient, in exchange for their recipient receiving a kidney from an anonymous donor.
It was not easy to make the decision to donate to someone she didn’t know in exchange for her friend’s daughter receiving a kidney. But ultimately Lori decided, “We are all connected by the same kind of love and in the big picture we all matter to one another.”
As a result, two transplants occurred and many people’s lives were changed for the better. Lori says, “I suspect that donating a kidney is akin to the miracle of giving birth/giving life. Kidney disease is a disease that those of us who are healthy can do something about. As someone who has donated, believe me when I say that being able to give the gift is the real gift.”
Who can donate?
Donors must be healthy, willing to donate without pressure, be blood type compatible and have a negative lymphocyte crossmatch with their intended recipient.
Blood tests are done with the blood of the recipient and donors. This is called lymphocyte crossmatching and can be done on multiple potential donors at a time. In this blood test, the donor’s blood cells are tested against the recipient’s to determine if the recipient has any previously formed sensitivity to that donor.
When there is a reaction between the cells, and the kidney would be rapidly rejected without aggressive desensitization, this is called a “positive crossmatch,” and in most cases another donor must be found.
No reaction between the cells is a “negative crossmatch,” meaning a transplant can safely take place. Once that negative crossmatch has been done, one donor is selected for medical evaluation. If this person is found to be a suitable donor from a medical, surgical and psychosocial standpoint, the operation is scheduled and a date is set for the transplant. This is preceded by a final preoperative evaluation the day before surgery.
Donors who are unable to donate to their intended recipient may donate as part of a paired exchange.
What you get out of donating.
Since her experience, Lori has returned to the full life she enjoyed prior to donating. She believes that her life has been exponentially enriched by being able to give a kidney. We are so very grateful to Lori as well as the generosity of all our donors who step forward to give the ultimate gift. In 2012, 34 people received living donor transplants at Virginia Mason and many lives beyond those individual patients were touched.
Heartfelt thanks go out to every person who has considered kidney donation.
Guest blogger Valorie Evanyo-Weaver is a transplant office assistant at VM and has been a member of the team for 2.5 years. She is currently training for a Disneyland event occurring Labor Day weekend that involves a 10K on Saturday, followed by a 1/2 marathon on Sunday.