A Living Kidney Donor Saved My Father’s Life — Others Aren’t So Fortunate
By Alex M. Azar
The Messenger, Opinion
When a beloved character in a movie needs a life-saving organ transplant, it almost always magically works out for a happy ending. My father’s story went this way, and I am forever thankful for it. But this is not the case for most Americans currently awaiting an organ transplant. And unless we fix our country’s broken transplant system, it will continue to be the norm.
Despite the tireless efforts of patient advocates and medical professionals, America’s organ donation system is not keeping pace with the demand for organ transplants. While more than 100,000 individuals languish on the transplant waitlist, 17 pass away every day on average, awaiting the organ they need to survive.
When I was secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), the department established a new value-based care transformation model for kidney care that provides incentives to earlier care for chronic kidney disease and for transplantation. But kidneys need to be available for transplant in order for the program to fully achieve its potential. Overall, the transplant system is improving, but living-donor donations remain a missed opportunity to save more lives. Over the past decade, transplants have increased by nearly 60%, largely because of deceased organ donations. But living transplants have only risen by 4.3% during that same period.
We need to — and can — do better to encourage more living organ donations if we are going to help the many thousands of Americans in need of a life-saving transplant. And my father’s experience is proof of how important these living-donor heroes are to the process.
In 2013, my father, an eye surgeon in Salisbury, Md., developed kidney failure. The disease not only forced him into early retirement but put his life in jeopardy. He desperately needed a kidney transplant but knew an uphill battle awaited. Thanks to the kindness and generosity of a living kidney donor, he received the transplant he needed and was blessed with several more years of life.
This is not something we take for granted. But the complicated and costly process offers an important lesson on the changes needed to improve the organ donation process. My father’s donor had to travel many times to the transplant center for testing and surgery preparation. And there are too many restrictions on the ability to reimburse a donor for all their expenses and time off work.
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