If you need a kidney, asking someone to become a living donor is a big ask. If you’re sick with kidney disease and need a transplant, friends or family members will usually come forward to volunteer. But what happens if they don’t? Where do you start?
Being diagnosed with kidney failure is a serious event in any person’s life. Medications, treatment, the physical – and not to mention emotional – strain of the situation is not a burden you’d wish on anyone. With the transplant waiting list growing longer by the day (it’s currently around 1,500 people in Australia), living donation has long been the most successful and viable treatment option available.
Dr Natasha Rogers, Transplant Physician at Western Sydney’s Westmead Hospital, explains that live donation is preferable to other treatment options like deceased donation or dialysis.
‘We recommend donation via someone in the family over going on the deceased donor kidney register’, she says.
‘What we know is that if we can get a living kidney donor, these kidneys are going to last longer and be healthier than a kidney coming from someone who’s died and whose family has decided to donate that organ.’
Currently, Australia is a world leader when it comes to successful transplant outcomes, with first year success rates currently exceeding 90 per cent.
If you’re in need of a new organ, finding someone willing to become a live donor is one of the biggest, most daunting things you’ll ever need to face in your life. So there are a number of factors you should consider for the greatest chance at success:
As it becomes known to wider circles that you need a kidney transplant, more opportunities to share your story will crop up. Oprah once said, ‘I believe luck is preparation meeting opportunity.’ To ensure you’re as prepared for these opportunities, and any potential questions, do as much research as you can on the subject. You might also like to organise sample ‘scripts’ in your mind so you’re able to field questions and still keep your emotions in check. The more prepared you are, the more informative and persuasive you can be with your networks.
When it comes to asking someone to consider donating a kidney, Dr Rogers believes open lines of communication are the key to success.
‘Your best bet is just being open with friends and family members about your illness and what kidney failure looks like for you,’ she explains.
‘People often misunderstand the effectiveness of dialysis. For example, it’s extremely limiting in terms of lifestyle and quality of life – you’re hooked up to a machine four hours a day, three times a week at a bare minimum. You can’t travel, and its harder for you to do simple things like go to work.’
Consider a buddy
Having to ask someone flat stick if they’ll give you their kidney is a potentially awkward situation, so recruit a friend or family member to be your ‘buddy’. It may be easier for this third person to ask indirectly so potential donors feel less pressured or guilted about saying no.
From email to social media, in this digitally connected world it’s easy to connect with people outside of your closest family and friends.
You might like to consider writing an easily shareable email or social post to all of your contacts, encouraging them to send on to their networks to help spread the word. Even if you don’t find a donor, you’re still raising awareness about kidney disease and organ donation which is an important message that should be spread.
Who can be a kidney transplant donor?
Most living organ donors are blood relatives of the person with kidney disease – usually a parent, brother or sister. But there have been big leaps in transplant medicine recently that have made it possible for people who aren’t blood relatives (such as a husband, wife, partner or friend) to donate their kidney to a person in need.
What’s involved in becoming a live donor?
‘First and foremost,’ says Dr Rogers, ‘you have to be fit and well with virtually no medical problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes. You also have to have no significant personal or family history of kidney disease.
‘There are a number of hoops to jump through and tests to undergo to confirm your compatibility with the recipient before you’re given the all clear to proceed with the kidney transplant process.’
What sort of tests do you need?
‘You’ll have a series of blood and immune tests to look at your kidney function and compatibility with the recipient,’ explains Dr Rogers. ‘You’ll have some more specific scans which will give us an exact sense of what your kidney function is. You’ll then have some heart, diabetes and a bunch of urine tests to determine there’s nothing to indicate you have dormant kidney disease’
‘There are some families for who kidney disease is written into their genes, so they’re likely to develop kidney disease down the track. Donors also can’t have had any injuries or illnesses that predispose them to kidney failure later in life.’
If you’ve found someone willing to become a kidney transplant donor, get in touch with your medical care team or alternatively reach out to the Organ and Tissue Authority.
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