I was speaking to Alex and my friend the other day about stories they have seen on various TV soaps invloving kidney donation. The worrying thing is that there are lots of people who believe that these stories are true. As far as what actually happens they couldn't be further from the truth.
Here are a few examples of the stories we spoke about:
Eastenders: The Ferreiras had a son who needed a kidney transplant and the whole family were tested and the only one who was compatible was the step brother. They went in to hospital a week later and had the operation. When they came out everyone was fine and that was the last we heard.
Coronation Street: Tracy Barlow needed a kidney transplant and Ken and Deidre were both incompatible. Her stepfather Samir was a match though. On the way to the hospital for the operation he was attacked and killed but they took the kidney with Deidre's consent and the operation was a success.
Holby City: Probably one of the worst stories. A girl needed a kidney and an altruistic donor came in offering his kidney. However, he only wanted the girl to have the kidney and started stalking her and eventually moved in with her. I think he was diagnosed with some psychological illness or something.
All of these stories paint a worrying picture of what actually goes on during the donation process. I'd like to put things straight as much as I can.
Firstly, donating a kidney is not something that can be decided or done in a couple of weeks. There are tests, both physiological and psychological, to go through before anything can be done and many of these are repeated several times. Also, no one is ever pushed into making a donation. The final decision is up to the donor and no one else.
Following surgery there is a lot more than a goodbye. The recipient will be in hospital for at least a week with a fairly long home recovery period also. They will have to take anti rejection medicine for a long time afterwards and go to regular check ups to make sure everything is working OK. For the donor there are a few check ups and then long term follow up every year just to make sure everything is OK.
So far the TV seems to have put a bad spin on kidney donation by making it a high risk decision. There is, of course, a risk involved with the surgery just the same as there is a risk with any surgery. However, looking at statistics of life expectance and chance ot get kidney failure, there is no change between people with one kidney and people with two kidneys. So there are no real concerns to face after the surgery is over.
For the recipient there is always a small chance that the kidney may not work or may be rejected. If this happens then some of the time it can be overcome using drugs but if it fails then they are back where they started and they have lost nothing. If the transplant is a success then their life will change completely. They will no longer be dependant on dialysis, they can drink normally, they will feel a lot better, everything will change for them.
As for altruistic donors, they would never actually know who is getting their kidney. They may not even find out if it was successful or not. The donor and recipient aren't even looked after in the same hospital. The most contact I have heard of between an altruistic donor and recipient is an anonymous letter thanking the donor.
Although the decision to be a donor is probably one of the biggest decisions you will make. The actual procedure and follow up is quite normal. The risks are there but are minimal and the long term effects are negligible. Just like giving blood saves lives, giving a kidney can save a life also. There were 2081 kidney transplants carried out last year. Only 832 were from living donors and there are still over 6500 people waiting for a kidney transplant and this figure is growing each year. If just a few extra people decide to donate altruistically or to someone they know then I am sure that this figure can be reduced significantly.