This blog is co-authored by representatives of the Northwest Kidney Council and Donate Life Northwest. NWKC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting safety and access to quality care for the kidney community in Oregon and Washington. Donate Life Northwest’s mission is to save lives and improve health through the promotion of organ, eye, and tissue donation.
Every year, our organizations mark the month of April – National Donate Life Month – with celebratory events and a renewed commitment to advocating for organ, eye, and tissue donors and their recipients throughout the country.
Of the nearly 120,000 Americans waiting for a lifesaving transplant, more than 3,000 live in our region. But a growing shortage of living and deceased organ, eye, and tissue donors means that not all will receive their transplant in time.
Kidney donation is unique in that it’s one of the only organs that can be donated from a living or deceased donor. Which is good, because there are hundreds of patients currently on the waiting list for a kidney transplant – at most recent count, 793 in Oregon and 1,448 in Washington.
Sometimes, a transplant is simply the best option for treatment because it can increase chances of living a longer, healthier life. But out of the hundreds on the waiting list, only 39 Oregonians and 57 Washingtonians received a match in the last year.
The gap between need and availability is stark for several reasons, but primarily because living kidney donors face significant financial and physical uncertainty. In addition to increased insurance rates, potential living donors also face risk of retaliation at work, soaring health care costs, and a lifetime of health care questions.
Fortunately, that’s where our organizations come in.
We advocate for strong workplace protections, like job-protected leave and anti-discrimination requirements in insurance coverage. The American Kidney Fund produces an annual Living Donor Report Card, which gives Oregon a “B” and Washington a “C,” highlighting the need for more work to educate people not only about the benefits of a life-saving donation, but the discriminatory practices that could impede a person’s choice to donate.
Clearly, there is work to be done in the Pacific Northwest to encourage living kidney donations. There’s also a widespread misconception that the donation procedure can lead to health implications or other physical issues down the line, which simply isn’t true. While the prospect is daunting, the health risks are very minimal.
Thanks to advances in medical science, it is common to safely donate a kidney or a portion of your liver while alive. The evaluation process can take a few months to a year, during which you will work closely with a transplant team while you undergo a variety of tests to make sure that transplant will be safe for you. After approval, the surgery takes 3-5 hours and an additional 4-8 hours in the recovery room. You will stay in the hospital for a few days to a week, after which you will be on the road to full functionality. Most likely you’ll be able to return to your normal activities 4 – 6 weeks after your surgery!
Although the decision to become a living donor involves careful consideration and medical review, living donation offers transplant candidates a potentially life-saving alternative to waiting for an organ from a deceased donor.
In fact, a kidney transplanted from a living donor tends to last longer than one from a deceased donor. If you are interested in learning more, consider reaching out to We Encourage Living Donation (WELD), a community-based peer-to-peer program that brings living donors and transplant professionals together to education, encourage, and support living donation. Additional resources about living donation can be found through Explore Transplant, the National Kidney Foundation, and the United Network for Organ Sharing Living Donation page.
Our organizations celebrate organ donors year-round, but we’ll take any excuse to acknowledge those who have given this selfless gift. So, from our teams to yours, happy Donate Life Month. If you’re interested in learning more about organ, eye, and tissue donation and how you can help, visit the Donate Life NW website.