Why We Need More Altruistic Kidney Donors

In the United States -

  • There are currently 121,678 people waiting for lifesaving organ transplants in the U.S. Of these, 100,791 await kidney transplants. (as of 1/11/16) 1
  • The median wait time for an individual’s first kidney transplant is 3.6 years and can vary depending on health, compatibility and availability of organs.2
  • In 2014, 17,107 kidney transplants took place in the US. Of these, 11,570 came from deceased donors and 5,537 came from living donors.1
  • On average:

  • Over 3,000 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month.1
  • 13 people die each day while waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant.1
  • Every 14 minutes someone is added to the kidney transplant list. 1
  • In 2014, 4,761 patients died while waiting for a kidney transplant. Another, 3,668 people became too sick to receive a kidney transplant.1

(statistics from the National Kidney Foundation)

Meanwhile, humans only need one kidney to lead a full and healthy life.

A kidney transplant is the very best treatment option for many people with kidney disease, but the waiting list is long. Most people wait an average of three years for a transplant but, for some, the wait is much longer. If more people donated a healthy kidney, the waiting list for transplants would shrink. Many more people with kidney disease could come off or avoid dialysis and regain their health and independence.

You may be aware that kidneys for transplantation can come from living donors or deceased donors. However, a very small number of people die in circumstances where their organs are suitable for transplant (fewer than 1% of the population) so there is always a shortage. A kidney from a living donor is the ‘gold standard’ for transplants. The success rate for transplants from living donors is better than that for transplants from deceased donors: 90-95% are working well one year after transplantation, compared with 85-90% for those received from a deceased donor (NHSBT statistics).

Not only do kidneys from living donors work better and last longer (on average), but the organs are thoroughly assessed for suitability and the surgery can be planned in at the best possible time for the donor, recipient and surgical team.

Until 2006, all living donors were either relatives or friends of people who received a kidney transplant. In 2006, guidance under the new Human Tissue Act stated that altruistic kidney donation was permitted. Non-directed donation, sometimes also known as altruistic donation, is the term that describes a donation that is given without knowledge of who is going to receive the kidney. An altruistic donor simply volunteers to give away a kidney to someone who needs it. NHS Blood and Transplant then finds the most suitable person to receive the kidney, and the transplantation is arranged by the local kidney transplant centres of the donor and recipient.

We strongly encourage all altruistic donors to consider donating a kidney into the paired/pooled donation scheme which allows the ‘unlocking’ of up to three transplants.

The paired/pool scheme involves four or more people, made up of two or more “couples.” One person in each couple is waiting for a kidney transplant, and the other wants to give a kidney to them but is not a good enough match to them (perhaps their blood type is different or their tissue type does not match). He or she therefore volunteers to give a kidney to a member of a couple in a similar situation, in return for a kidney for his or her partner. Essentially the kidneys are ‘swapped’ to a recipient who matches each donor.

The “paired” scheme involves two “couples”, and the “pooled” scheme involves more than two couples.

If an altruistic donor offers to donate his or her kidney to such a scheme, it can ‘trigger’ in an altruistic donor chain with two or three people receiving a kidney, who may not otherwise find a suitable transplant. Therefore your single kidney can enable up to three transplants – helping three recipients and shortening the waiting list even further!