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Offline Clark

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I was able to donate a kidney to save a life, but I had to leave Kansas City to help | Opinion BY MARTHA GERSHUN
MARCH 24, 2023 5:00 AM

Nearly 106,000 Americans are currently on the transplant waiting list. Sadly, 17 of them will die each day waiting for the organ that could save their lives. On Dec. 30, 2022, Tonya Ingram was one. She was a 31-year-old poet who had recently shared her story before Congress while highlighting the need to increase the number of organs for transplant. It was too late for Tonya. But her story is a powerful reminder that we must do better for those still waiting on an organ transplant. Over the past 20 years, we’ve made steady, yet insufficient, progress to increase the number of organs from deceased donors. Last year set an all-time record of 14,904, according to the nonprofit Donor Alliance. But the number of living organ donors has remained disappointingly flat for the past two decades — only 6,466 in 2022 — while the waiting list continues to grow. TOP VIDEOS Top Videos 01:20 01:30 Museum opens for famedKansas aviator Kidneys from living donors offer many advantages as they often last twice as long as organs from deceased donors. This means better outcomes for patients while reducing the need for repeat transplants if organs fail. And while only so many deceased donors will be available in any given year, there is a huge untapped opportunity for living donations to save lives. Becoming a living donor is not easy. It involves significant testing, a surgical procedure, recovery time and much more. But it can also save the life of a loved one or a stranger in need. When people are ready to take this step, we should make it as easy as possible for them to do so. My personal experience may offer some insights on why it has been so difficult to increase the number of living donations. In 2018, I donated one of my kidneys to a woman I read about in the newspaper. It was a profoundly meaningful experience for me and likely saved her life. But it was also tremendously complicated, frequently exasperating and shockingly expensive. Get unlimited digital access Try 1 month for $1 CLAIM OFFER A major transplant clinic in my hometown of Kansas City rejected my recipient, so she chose to seek care at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. This meant a 12-hour round-trip drive and many days away from home with my designated caregiver (my husband) for medical appointments, evaluations and the ultimate surgery and follow-up appointments. I am retired, but my husband had to miss 18 days of work. Our travel expenses alone totaled over $5,000. I also had to collect many different test results from my local providers — including required procedures such as a mammogram, colonoscopy and pap smear — and ship numerous blood and urine samples to the Mayo Clinic. While I had the time and resources to navigate these requirements, others may not have the same flexibility to take time off work or leave their families and responsibilities. LIVING DONOR SUPPORT ACT IN CONGRESS My recipient offered to reimburse our expenses. But not every transplant recipient can afford to do so. And not every donor can afford to float those expenses while waiting for reimbursement. These circumstances shouldn’t be the difference between someone living or dying. That’s why I am working with the Kidney Transplant Collaborative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving America’s transplant system. It’s also why I support the Living Donor Support Act to help cover donor costs and increase living kidney donations. Passing this commonsense legislation and eliminating barriers that prevent living donations would save lives. Only about 10% of living donors give to strangers, while the other 90% donate to help save family, friends or colleagues. They are highly motivated to help. While many are deemed healthy enough to donate safely, far too many are unable to proceed because of logistical and financial barriers. Thousands of Americans are interested in donating an organ to save a loved one or a stranger. But we need a system in place that encourages it, not one that makes it so daunting to consider. This should include a national education program to bring potential donors in the door, a navigator system to help potential donors through the process, a reimbursement system to ensure donors are made whole for their contribution and a national system to track living donors and transplant organs. On the Vine A weekly conversation between The Kansas City Star and the minority communities it serves, bringing you the news and cultural insights from across the Kansas City region and abroad, straight to your inbox every Thursday. SIGN UP This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply. Fortunately, we can do all of this. And it could save the federal government up to $150,000 on every kidney transplant if Congress adopts the Living Donor Support Act. Giving away a part of your body to save another life is an act of extreme altruism. When Americans are willing to do it, we should help them. Martha Gershun is a living kidney donor, writer and consultant living in Fairway. She is also a special adviser to the Kidney Transplant Collaborative, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit dedicated to increasing kidney transplants and decreasing financial obstacles and other challenges kidney patients, donors and their families experience with the transplant experience.
Unrelated directed kidney donor in 2003, recipient and I both well.
596 time blood and platelet donor since 1976 and still giving!
Elected to the OPTN/UNOS Boards of Directors & Executive, Kidney Transplantation, and Ad Hoc Public Solicitation of Organ Donors Committees, 2005-2011
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