Archive for the 'Opinion' Category

The Ventura Star did a very nice package on the absolute outrage that is Medicare funding for kidney patients.

Here’s how Medicare works. You can live on dialysis, which will tear down your health and for most people leave you too exhausted to do much of anything; Medicare will pay $71,000 a year for that, no problem. You can get a kidney transplant for about $100,000, and Medicare will pay for that, too.

For $17,000 a year, Medicare could pay for anti-rejection drugs. And it does, for the first three years after a transplant. And then for a lot of people, the organ fails because Medicare runs out and the people haven’t found other health insurance. That’s OK. Medicare will pay for another $100,000 transplant, if they can find an organ donor.

It makes sense in theory. With a new organ, you are healthy and should be able to get a job. But if you haven’t worked for the umpteen years you were on the waiting list because dialysis made you so sick, it’s a little hard to find a great job with full benefits. You can’t afford to take a low-level job with little or no benefits, because the Medicare will stop and your kidney will fail now.

I can believe that the government would limit anti-rejection meds to save money, but it’s costing taxpayers more.

My kidney daddy says he won’t let this happen to our kidney; he will think of something.

Meanwhile, there is a senator, mentioned in this part of the story package, who keeps proposing a bill that would provide lifetime coverage for anti-rejection drugs. Guess who opposes it: Big Dialysis. That’s just evil.

I’m not so political; I don’t write my congressional reps. But I’m going to write all of them and tell them my story and ask them to please ensure that my donated kidney will live on.

The Rev. Santhosh George of the Malankara Orthodox Church wants to donate a kidney to a 16-year-old girl named Jayasree.

Unfortunately, in India, only blood relatives of the recipient are permitted to be living kidney donors. Jayasree is in full kidney failure, and the priest, who runs an orphanage, wants to save her life. He has resorted to a hunger strike to persuade the government to permit an exception and let him donate.

Jayasree’s family members have exhausted their  options, and the Rev. George has a demonstrated history of philanthropy. Can we agree that saving this child’s life will not contribute to organ trafficking and exploitation of the poor?

Are you a living kidney donor? Cara would really like your input on a survey she’s put together about the donation experience.

Won’t you fill it out?

Deceased donors, thank you for your donation, also, but … well, you know.

After Tucson gun victim Christina Taylor-Green’s parents decided to donate her organs, it drew attention to the topic of kidney donation.

The Green Valley News profiled two kidney transplants. The first was a husband-wife kidney donation between Shelly and Danny Freeman. When Danny needed a kidney transplant after exposure to toxic chemicals, Shelly volunteered. Three years later, she’d do it all again.

“I feel great with just one kidney, too,” Shelly said. “I was tired following the initial surgery, but now it’s just back to normal.”

Doctor’s say Danny’s new kidney is functioning very well.

The second kidney transplant featured in the article went to Bobb Vann, an artist whose work hangs in the Pentagon and other prominent locations.

When it became known that Bobb needed a kidney transplant, 20 people offered to be tested. The best match was Roberta “Birdie” Stabel, who donated her kidney to Bobb in 2004.

“I really wish people would know what a great gift it is to donate an organ,” Vann said. “I still hear about people, some right here in the area, that were on dialysis for years and are still waiting for a kidney donation.”

Kidney donation is a great gift to everyone involved. The surgery to the donor is laparoscopic. Donors are in the hospital a couple of days at most, back to work in two weeks. But that’s just the physical.

As a donor, you will always have the memory of being involved in a profound and joyful human experience. Oh, and someone’s life gets saved, too.

Consider being a living kidney donor.

CBS News has done a lovely story about kidney  transplant swaps, including the genesis of the National Kidney Registry. Software CEO Garet Hil launched the largest national database of kidney donors after his daughter Samantha’s kidneys began to fail and she needed a kidney transplant.

“I didn’t even know I had two kidneys before this,” Garet said. “It was, you know, not on the radar.”

CBS goes on to detail a 10-kidney transplant chain that included none other than Laura Amador. Max Zapata was the crazy stranger who kicked off the chain that gave Laura a kidney.

It all started with Max Zapata, from Clovis, Calif., who kicked off this chain as the “good Samaritan” donor. He gave a kidney and expected nothing in return.

“I just really felt that it was something that I needed to do in my heart,” Zapata said. “I didn’t know where it would go, but that I knew that it would be something that would help someone out.”

It led to 10 people becoming more healthy, more productive, a bigger part of their families for a lot longer time.

So Laura’s brother Paul donated a kidney to Kirk Larson, whose wife, Teresa, was the next to donate. She found what a lot of living kidney donors find – the joy.

“The more involved you get and the deeper you get into the process – it’s a totally exciting experience really,” Teresa said.

Samantha Hil received a kidney from one of her cousins, but National Kidney Registry founder and dad Garet Hil says he got far more out of his efforts than a kidney for Samantha.

“What we’re doing right now, has had more impact than anything I’ve done, you know, ever. … When you see those people who have come out of these swaps and they’ve got the transplant, it’s a miracle,” Garet said.

It is a miracle. Get involved. You’ll be changed forever.

Brandi Kirkpatrick is a teacher at a school, where she learned that a parent of a student was in need of a kidney transplant. Gwen McNair-Riley had been on the transplant list for five years before last week’s kidney transplant. From Brandy.

“I can’t believe we only had surgery two days ago,” said Kirkpatrick. “I feel fine thanks to a new laparoscopic noninvasive procedure.”

Yeah, that laparoscopic surgery is some good stuff. I was out of the hospital the next day, and shopping the day after that.

Through tears of joy, McNair sobbed,” She has given me the gift of life for sure! I will now be able to travel, get full time work, and work on my degree.”


Now, about the supposed rarity of interracial kidney transplants, as noted in this article, regular readers here have seen any number of stories about someone donating a kidney to someone of another race. My own living kidney donation was to a man of another race.

It isn’t hard to match someone of another race. We don’t have black blood or white blood or Latino blood, as this article might lead you to believe. Antibodies that can nix a match have nothing to do with the color of your skin. But sure, the more alike you are to the person who receives your kidney, the less the chance of rejection.

Congrats to Brandi and Gwen; though their transplant situation is hardly “rare,” it is beautiful.

Worth knowing if you are considering being a living kidney donor: African American and Latino kidney donors have a higher incidence of hypertension, diabetes and chronic kidney disease, post-donation. And African American and Latino people in general have a higher incidence of those conditions, so I guess it makes sense.

Researchers say that while these findings should not be used to discourage anyone from donating … these factors should be taken into consideration when counseling potential donors about their future health risks.

Yeah, so take a closer look at your pre-kidney donation test results and your family history, and see what the risk is for you. I took all my test results to my personal physician to get a second opinion before I donated a kidney. It definitely gave me peace of mind to share the information with someone who knew my body better than the kidney transplant team did.

Flavia and Bill Walton were part of a very large kidney swap, involving 14 donor-recipient pairs.

“To see someone that you love most [in] the world deteriorate is a sense of helplessness and powerlessness that you just cannot comprehend unless you’ve been there. But to be able to do something is so empowering, but it is such a blessing,” says Flavia.

And good for them. These swaps are bringing healthy kidneys from living donors to patients. Kidneys from living donors are less likely to fail and tend to last twice as long as kidneys from deceased donors.

Kidney swaps bring donors to the table who in all likelihood would never have donated a kidney otherwise. Yet the expert in this article says that he worries swaps will push people on the list farther down and make them wait longer.

“We at least want to be fair with the people on the wait list who don’t have a family member available. Being fair might mean waiting a trivial extra amount of time, but we certainly don’t want to make those people wait years extra just because of the swap arrangements,” says Professor Robert Veatsch of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University.

It doesn’t seem like there is an ethical issue here. If the donors in a chain donation are all friends and relatives of kidney patients, everyone gets a kidney from someone who was probably never going to be an altruistic donor for a stranger on the UNOS list.

And a lot of swaps start with an altruistic donor, who in theory, could have gone to the next person on the official list and donated there. But what happens in swaps that begin with a stranger is that a kidney at the other end of the chain does go to someone on the list.

Veatsch, whom I don’t mean to pick on, raises another very typical ethical concern about kidney donation, that compensation such as a tax break “taints altruism.”

I don’t feel tainted when I deduct my donation to a charity. How is a tax break for donating an organ any different?

It is important to think through the ethics of what we do, but our primary ethical obligation is to save lives and get out of the way of people who would like to do it. I am hoping that as we sort through these new ways to get an organ, that happens more and more.

As part of its Month of Thinking Dangerously, The Big Think is thinking about compensation for living kidney donors.

Its big thinkers talk to Arthur Matas, director of renal transplant at the University of Minnesota, who says a carefully regulated compensation system would go a long way to eliminate the supposed kidney shortage. No argument here.

TBT notes that more than 4,500 people are known to have died waiting for a kidney transplant last year. Others may never have made it to the list.

The post looks at a few of the fears people have about compensating donors and has some excellent research links at the end.

If you are interested in this topic, I highly recommend Sally Satel’s book on the topic, “When Altruism Isn’t Enough,” which examines a number of scenarios and risks in great detail.

I am a strong believer that if you need a kidney transplant, particularly if your blood is Type O, you need to use all the tools available to you to find a living donor. Hit Facebook and Craigslist and and all that happy stuff!

Diane White worked it out in Tuscon, and with the help of Craigslist, she found a living kidney donor. She got the idea from a friend she met at dialysis, Tanya Gutierrez.

“People sell all kinds of things on Craigslist. A lot of people read it,” Gutierrez said. “And I didn’t want to just sit around and wait. I wanted to do something for myself.”

Tanya placed an ad saying she needed a kidney transplant and found a donor. And Diane didn’t really want to ask for help, but then … she kind of needed help.

Enter Jessica Cameron, who drove to Tucson, got tested and donated a kidney. Post-transplant, Jessica says twaren’t nothin’.

“They told me to avoid contact sports and I haven’t wanted to do that in the last five years. I don’t see myself developing an urge, either,” Cameron joked. “The big pain is over now, so I’m going on with my life as normal.”

Diane is still stunned by Jessica’s generosity.

“To be so unselfish, it just blows me away,” White said of Cameron. “She has given me a chance to live out the rest of my life.”