April is National Donate Life Month, which brings attention to organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation. It’s a good reminder to share with your family your decision to be a donor and consider the healing gift of sharing a living organ through the gift of transplantation.
Giving the Gift of Life
Last year a total of 39,034 transplants were performed in the United States from both living and deceased donors. This represents the second-highest annual total of overall transplants, despite transplant centers pausing living donor programs for a short time when COVID-19 initially struck.
However, across the country there are 118,000 people on the transplant list, waiting for a kidney, liver, pancreas, heart or lungs. In Utah, there are 803 people on that waiting list.
Living Kidney Donation
In an effort to alleviate the organ shortage, Intermountain Healthcare Transplant Services at Intermountain Medical Center joined a national registry that helps get the best optimally matched organ donors and recipients across the nation.
The National Kidney Registry (NKR) is a unique nationwide organ donor exchange program that facilitates paired exchanges, a process in which an organ donor donates their kidney to a recipient other than their loved one in exchange for a compatible kidney for their friend or loved one.
This program can facilitate living donor transplants among those patients that are hard to match and may help in many instances to find a better match than conventional living donor transplants through the use of high-resolution typing.
Intermountain Transplant Services is the only organ transplant program in Utah to be a part of this national registry. Since joining NKR, Intermountain has participated in 57 kidney exchanges involving recipients and donors.
NKR finds optimal matches for kidney recipients with the largest pool of living donors across 100 organ transplant centers in the U.S.
“On average a living kidney transplant doubles the life expectancy of the recipient,” says Donald Morris, MD, nephrologist and Intermountain Healthcare’s kidney transplant medical director. “It also greatly improves the quality of life while decreasing their overall health costs.”
Other benefits for participating in a living donor transplant:
- Every living donor transplant that occurs removes one person from the transplant waiting list and ensures that the next person on the list won’t have to wait as long for a deceased donor transplant.
- Living donor kidneys tend to have greater longevity than those transplanted from a deceased donor
- Surgery can be scheduled in advance
- Patients can get a living donor kidney transplant before starting dialysis.
- Patients spending less time on dialysis means better health
Living Liver Donation
A recent study in the Annals of Surgery shows that living donor liver transplantation showed multiple superior outcomes compared with deceased donor liver transplantation – including longer survival, shorter lengths of hospital stay, shorter recovery times, fewer complications, and lower costs.
Last year Intermountain performed a record 222 adult patient abdominal organ transplants. The biggest increase in 2020 was in liver transplantation, which jumped from 53 in 2019 to 79 in 2020.
“Many people don’t know about living organ donation, but it truly gives so many more people new leases on life,” said Richard Gilroy, MD, transplant hepatologist and Intermountain Healthcare’s liver transplant medical director.” “It truly changes lives and gets people back to their families to live the lives they were meant to live.”
To sign up to become an organ donor go to: www.IntermountainHealthcare.org/DonateLife