More and more people in the UK are volunteering to give a kidney although they do not know anyone in particular who needs a kidney. Giving a kidney for a stranger is known as ‘non-directed altruistic kidney donation’ and the person is called an ‘altruistic’ donor. The first person in NI to do this donated in June 2011, and over the next 4 years a further 14 followed suit! The number of people volunteering is growing every year. Click here to read a Sunday Telegraph story and here to read a discussion on this topic in the Guardian.
The assessment process, re-imbursement, operation and recovery are the same as for any donor. The only difference is that all altruistic donors have a psychological assessment to ensure they have carefully considered the whole process. When there is a strong family or emotional tie with the person needing the kidney transplant it can be easier to go through the process, and of benefit to see the improvement that the gift of life has made after the operation. The process therefore for altruistic donors deliberately take a little longer to allow time for reflection on the implications of donation. Happily all of those who have donated have been glad they did so!
All altruistic donor kidneys will be offered first to anyone in the UK for whom it will be an excellent match if they have been or are likely to be waiting for a long time for a suitable kidney offer. If there is nobody in this category in desperate need for a kidney then there are two options. The first is to offer the kidney into the living donor pooled exchange programme. This is where there are people who are suitable to donate a kidney to their friend / relative but they cannot do so because they do not match. Please click here for information on pool programme. The advantage of an altruistic donor being part of this is that they can potentially start a short chain of transplants: if they are matched to a person in the pool needing a transplant, then that person’s living donor who couldn’t donate to them directly, will be matched with someone on the needing a kidney who is waiting on the deceased donor list. Thus this enables two people rather than one to be transplanted and benefit from one altruistic donor. The other option is to donate directly to someone who does not have a living donor and is waiting for a deceased donor kidney. The only advantage to this option is in the timing of the transplant operation – it is easier to organise. Otherwise, if the altruistic donor can be a little flexible in terms of timing and be patient with the organising that is required to co-ordinate with another hospital, we would recommend that they enter into the pooled exchange programme to make twice the impact and transform more lives.
There is no doubt, whichever path is chosen, that an altruistic donor kidney will make a massive impact on someone, along with their family, friends and colleagues. It is hard to over-estimate the benefits an altruistic donor brings to others.