April is Donate Life Month and Nearly Half of Americans Don't Know about Living Organ Donation

April is Donate Life Month and Nearly Half of Americans Don't Know About Living Organ Donation

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New MedStar Health survey identifies misunderstandings about living organ donation

COLUMBIA, Md – As we observe April as National Donate Life Month, a new national survey conducted by MedStar Health finds nearly half, 48% of Americans, are not aware of living donation.

“For people in need of an organ donation, living kidney donation can be superior to receiving an organ from a deceased donor because it can decrease the time a patient will wait to be transplanted, provide a better-quality organ, and increase the chance it will last a lot longer,” said Jennifer Verbesey, MD, transplant surgeon and director of the Living Donor Kidney Transplant program at MedStar Health. “A living donor can be a family member, friend, co-worker or even someone who comes forward who wants to donate to no one in particular, just because they understand the great need we have for organs for transplant.”

Kidneys can be donated by a living donor, as can a portion of the liver. Seventeen people in the United States die each day waiting for an organ, according to Donate Life America, and a new person is added to the national transplant waiting list every nine minutes.

Photo of transplant Dr. Jennifer Verbesey during a surgical transplant operation.

Other survey insights include:

  • 79% believe a donor and recipient must be a perfect match to be compatible for a transplant. This is not true, especially for kidneys.

  • 68% do not know how to register to be a living donor.

  • 60% would be a living donor for a family member or friend.

  • 37% believe they qualify to be a living donor.

  • 63% didn’t know living organ donors can be given a voucher that guarantees a family member an organ for transplant in the future.

“There are several types of new transplant procedures we can perform today that don’t require a recipient and their donor to be a compatible match,” said Dr. Verbesey. “MedStar Health is a national leader in paired kidney exchange and managing recipients and donors who are incompatible. Only a portion of transplant centers in the United States can offer this option to their patients.”

Dr. Verbesey says extensive studies have proven that kidney donors go on to live normal, healthy lives with one kidney and suffer no ill health effects. She says transplant centers across the country can help people register to be a living organ donor if they’re interested.

“For someone to become a kidney donor, the first step is completing a donor questionnaire, then, as donor safety is our top priority, we have them come in for a comprehensive medical evaluation, lab work, an in-depth meeting with the living kidney donor team and diagnostic testing,” said Dr. Verbesey.

“If approved as a donor, they might go on to donate their kidney as part of a direct donation or as part of a paired kidney exchange where a donor donates to another person and their intended recipient receives a kidney from a different donor.”

Candid photo of Dr. Jennifer Verbesey working in a hospital at MedStar HealthThere are also programs to help remove barriers to organ donation, such as the reluctance to donate out of fear that a family member might later need a kidney. MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute is the Washington, D.C., area’s only National Kidney Registry (NKR) Donor Shield Program, which includes the NKR’s Family Voucher Program. The family voucher is used when a potential donor does not know someone in immediate need of a kidney transplant, but they still want to donate their kidney to somebody. If that person donates their kidney to a stranger, the Family Voucher Program allows for up to five family members of the donor to receive vouchers that one of the family members can redeem if they ever need a kidney transplant in the future.

Also, through a partnership with the NKR, the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute offers a host of donor protections, including lost wage and travel reimbursement.

Many people in the United States would likely qualify to be a living donor. Requirements include:

  • Donor is at least 18 years old.

  • Must be an appropriate candidate for general surgery.

  • Meets medical, social, and psychological criteria set by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

  • Must be able to give informed consent.

In the U.S. today, the wait to receive a kidney from a deceased donor is three to five years, or longer for some blood types, and there are almost 90,000 people on the national transplant waiting list in need of a kidney. For a liver, that wait can be less than 30 days or up to five years depending on the severity of the illness.

“Living organ donation can shorten that wait substantially,” said Dr. Verbesey. “With living organ donation, people can go on to live their full lives feeling healthy without an agonizing wait. That’s truly a gift of life.”

To learn more about living organ donation, please visit MedStarHealth.org/LivingDonor.

The survey of 1000 people in the United States age 18 and over occurred March 11, 2023.

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