Saving a Loved One’s Life:
New Approaches to Organ Donation and Transplant
by Laura Miyashita
With more than 21,000 California residents waiting for organ transplants, increasing awareness of organ donation is critical to helping individuals who desperately await a life-saving transplant.
For 65-year-old Redding, Calif. resident John Williams, learning that one of his kidneys could improve the life of his friend was all the motivation he needed to become a living kidney donor. In what is called a kidney paired donation, John recently gave a kidney to an unknown, compatible recipient so that his friend Jim Gironda could receive a similar compatible kidney from another donor within the “exchange.”
Kidney Paired Donation
Kidney paired donation is an option for living donor pairs who are not compatible with each other. Previously, people with kidney failure who had an incompatible donor needed to wait for a deceased donor. But, with kidney paired donation, kidneys can be “exchanged” between pairs, making multiple compatible living donor transplants possible.
If a living donor transplant hadn’t occurred for Jim (see related article "A Story of Friendship: Redding Man Donates Kidney So His Ailing Friend Can Have a Better Life" ), he would have waited 5-7 years for a kidney transplant from a deceased donor. “The rising incidence of kidney failure has resulted in more Californians needing a kidney transplant,” says Steven Katznelson, M.D., medical director of California Pacific Medical Center’s Kidney Transplant Program. “As a result, transplant centers nationwide are using new approaches—such as kidney paired donation—that can provide a new source of living donor transplants. This type of kidney transplant offers many benefits, most importantly better success compared to deceased donor transplants and a shorter wait,” Katznelson explains. In the past year, surgeons at California Pacific performed 66 living donor transplants, including a five-way kidney paired donor transplant—a first to occur at any California hospital.
The Need for Organ Donors
Every day at CPMC, several patients are hospitalized while waiting for an organ transplant. Their need is so acute that they must remain at CPMC until an organ becomes available.
“The sad truth is that with an aging population and diseases such as hepatitis and diabetes on the rise, the need for transplantation has increased and the number of organ donors hasn’t kept pace,” says Robert Osorio, M.D., chairman of CPMC’s Barry S. Levin, M.D. Department of Transplantation. He adds, “Last year, CPMC’s transplant team performed 317 kidney, pancreas, heart and liver transplants for patients with end-stage disease, a number that would have been even higher had enough organs been available.”
What You Can Do
To bring attention to the growing need for organ donation, April is designated as National Organ Awareness Donation month. Because California is home to more than 21 percent of the nation’s individuals awaiting a transplant, education surrounding organ donation is critical.
To register to be an organ donor and learn more, visit: donatelifecalifornia.org.
John Williams (center) donated his kidney to Dale Anderson (left) in a kidney paired donor transplant that resulted in John’s friend Jim Gironda (right) receiving a kidney from another living donor.