More than 1,300 Missourians are waiting for organ transplants, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. In 2016, kidney transplants accounted for 59 percent of completed transplants in Missouri, making kidneys one of the most needed tissue donations.
As the only health system in mid-Missouri with a transplant program, University of Missouri Health Care has provided kidney transplant services to central Missourians for more than 45 years. When it comes to kidney transplants, here are five things you need to know.
Kidney transplantation is the gold standard treatment for kidney failure.
Patients with advanced kidney failure need dialysis to survive, but the treatment can be burdensome due to the associated fatigue and poor quality of life. In addition, patients on dialysis have a high mortality rate. Kidney transplantation, on the other hand, can give ‘normalcy’ back to patients’ lives and has been shown to improve survival. As a result, receiving a kidney transplant should be the goal for all patients with advanced kidney failure.
Not everyone is a candidate.
Although kidney transplants can be life-changing for people with kidney failure, not everyone is a candidate. “An extensive evaluation is needed before patients are even put on the organ waiting list,” said MU Health Care nephrologist Preethi Yerram, MD. “Unfortunately, not everyone is a candidate. In those cases, we recommend other treatment options to help patients manage the disease.”
The evaluation process sometimes takes more than six months. During this time, doctors assess whether the patient can get through the surgery safely, how the surgery might affect the patient’s mental health, and whether the patient will have the necessary social support during recovery after surgery. Another critical aspect is whether the patient will follow her medication plan post-transplant.
“Donated organs like kidneys are a precious resource,” Yerram said. “If a patient isn’t compliant with her medications, the kidney will fail. We take this very seriously.”
To improve your candidacy, stay healthy and active. If you have any existing medical issues, stay on top of your medicine and treatment plan, Yerram said.
Not all kidneys are created equal.
Most kidney transplant candidates wait on the transplant waiting list for three to four years, Yerram said. Several factors – such as the patient’s blood type, antibody levels or type of kidney the patient wants to accept – determine how long a patient waits.
“Kidneys from young donors are usually very good — but harder to come by,” Yerram said. “Some recipients are willing to accept kidneys from older donors with some medical problems because it helps reduce the wait time.”
If you are a transplant candidate, your doctor will help you decide if an available donor kidney is right for you.
Patience is key.
“Patients get really excited when we tell them ‘we might have a kidney for you,’” Yerram said. “We are quick to remind them that just because we get a call about a kidney, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will get that kidney.”
Patients can be notified even if they are second or third in line for an available kidney. Once the transplant program contacts the patient, the patient must get to the hospital as soon as possible for final transplant evaluation. Two reasons patients might not receive the donor kidney are: they don’t pass the final evaluation, or someone in line before them gets the kidney.
“If it doesn’t work out, patients usually take it very well,” Yerram said. “Just to hear about an offer gives patients hope that they will get their new kidney soon.”
Getting a kidney from a living donor can be an advantage.
The biggest bonus to getting a kidney from a living donor is that it generally takes less waiting time. “About a quarter of the transplants we do at MU are living donor transplants,” Yerram said. “These patients get the benefit of not having to wait as long as those on a deceased donor list, and the kidneys they receive are often healthier and last longer.”
Although many living donors know their kidney recipient, Yerram said anonymous donations do occur. “It’s always inspiring to see people do such a selfless thing and donate when they don’t even know the recipient. They’re helping someone who has been weak and tired — unable to carry on their daily living — feel like a new person.”
If you are a Missouri resident and are interested in learning more about becoming a donor, visit the Midwest Transplant Network’s website at www.MWTN.org, or sign up for the Missouri donor registry at http://YesTheyWantMe.com. To learn more about MU Health Care’s kidney transplant program, visit www.MUHealth.org.