This is a guest blog from Susan Gianstefani, @living_donor on Twitter.
For me, being a living organ donor is one of the best things I have done with my life. Since I first considered being a living organ donor, I have come to realise that it is by far the best way to help people suffering from kidney (or liver) failure, if patients are well enough to undertake a transplant.
As far as the actual experience of donation goes, it made me feel very privileged to play a part in the wonderful miracle of healing that is living organ transplantation at this point in history. The care and commitment of health professionals and the medical advancements of today make transplantation a unique opportunity for kidney patients. With the imminent threat of antibiotic resistance looming we don’t know how long this window of opportunity will be open for.
It has only been since 2006 that changes in the Human Tissue Act have made altruistic organ donation (donating to a stranger) legal in this country. Since then, with limited publicity, there have been 416 altruistic donations, the vast majority being kidneys.
However, there is still what I would claim is a resistance to discussing living organ donation alongside deceased organ donation. I’m not sure why. When there is publicity about the need for more organ donors, the conclusion is almost unanimously aimed at getting people to sign the organ donor register, and I don’t understand why there is not the same emphasis on promoting living organ donation. Deceased donation will never be able to fulfil the increasing need for organs but living donation can.
Quite often I find myself amazed at how living donation is almost a taboo subject (the elephant in the room) which people don’t want to talk about, when it is well understood by those “in the know” to be the best option for kidney patients awaiting a transplant, for multiple reasons. It is easier and cheaper than transplantation from deceased donors, the organs generally last longer and start working faster and, believe it or not, there are 500 times more than enough people in the UK, recent statistics have proven, who would consider donating to a stranger to completely wipe out the kidney waiting list.
The biggest factors working against deceased donation is that people have to die in the right circumstances (e.g. on a life support machine) in order to be able to donate, and their loved ones, who are understandably very distressed, quite often refuse donation.
Next time you hear about encouraging people to sign the organ donor register, note whether living donation is even mentioned as a viable option for family members, friends or strangers to consider as part of the solution to the growing problem of a lack of organs. If not, I think we should be asking “Why not?”