In the hospital recovering from his living donor kidney transplant, a patient at Rush University Medical Center asked his family to bring him books he loved but hadn't studied for a while. The new organ was functioning so well that it had already eradicated many symptoms of his kidney disease, including the mental fogginess that had for months prevented him from focusing on his books.
"That’s the great thing about living donor kidney transplant," says Edward Hollinger, MD, PhD, a transplant surgeon at Rush. "Kidneys from living donors often work so well, so fast that you see a dramatic change in a very short amount of time."
A Serious Problem
When kidneys are working well, they filter waste substances from the blood, produce a hormone that stimulates red blood cells, and help control the volume of fluid in the body. Kidney disease — which can result from diabetes, high blood pressure and other disorders — occurs when the kidneys stop performing these functions properly. It can cause a range of symptoms and health problems, including nausea and vomiting, mental fogginess, low bone density, poor nutritional health, high blood pressure, shortness of breath and even death. In addition to living donor transplant, treatments include kidney transplant from a deceased donor and dialysis, a procedure that must be performed routinely to filter impurities from the blood that the kidneys would normally remove.
An Advantageous Solution
For kidney transplant candidates, getting an organ from a living donor can make a big difference. Nearly 90,000 people in the United States are on a waiting list to receive a kidney, but fewer than 10 percent of those people are likely to receive one from a deceased donor within a given year; those who receive a donation from a living family member or friend can bypass the waiting list, getting a new kidney within months rather than years.
Moreover, kidneys from living donors — like the one Hollinger's patient received — usually begin functioning much more quickly than kidneys from deceased donors, which can sometimes take weeks to begin working normally.
A Big Decision
Living donors undergo an extensive medical evaluation to ensure the health of their kidneys as well as their own health and safety. Thanks in part to this evaluation process, living kidney donation causes few complications and carries little medical risk for the donor. (When a surgeon removes one kidney, the donor's remaining kidney generally starts working harder to make up for the lost functionality.)
But that doesn’t mean the decision to donate — or to ask a friend or family member for a kidney — is easy. "It's very challenging for recipients to approach potential donors," says Richard Reyes, RN, a living donor transplant coordinator at Rush. "They know this person's going to go into surgery, and however safe it is, it's not something to take lightly."
Hollinger and Reyes advise potential recipients to present the issue directly and factually by describing in detail to potential donors everything involved in living donation and allowing them time to consider the issue carefully and make up their own minds.
The decision to help a loved one get well comes with the stress of undergoing a major medical procedure, Reyes points out, but it also can be deeply gratifying. "Anxiety naturally mounts as the procedure gets closer," he says. "But then, when I see donors for their follow-up visits, there's often a very deep satisfaction. I notice a difference within them."
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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.
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