Advocacy Living Donor Misinformation Living Donor Risks Living Kidney Donor

No folks, it’s not as easy as “save a life, get a new belly button”

So a transplant surgeon is using the pages of The Atlantic to promote living donation.

You know, five years of this BS has been exhausting. No matter what seems to happen, the transplant industry keeps perpetuating the same recipient-centered propaganda and the media complies without question. I’ve lost count of how many reporters I’ve contacted about stories like this, how many publications I’ve tried to interest in what’s happening to living donors out there. None of them seem to care.

It’s acceptable to write about the government’s failure to care for returning veterans and how many are committing suicide, but it’s somehow blasphemy to utter any sentiment that might make living donors less than angelic heroes who skip merrily off into the sunset. We can’t say anything that might jeopardize the ever-continuing flow of kidneys for the would-be recipients.


As a matter of fact, I am angry,  how can you tell?


Anyway, here’s the comment I posted on the article:


Mezrich is incorrect that donors are evaluated “very carefully”. Until 2013, there were NO national standards of care for living donors. OPTN tried to implement such standards in 2007, but the transplant industry violently rejected them. It was only after years of pressure from the federal government (Dept of Health and Human Services) that they relented and passed the minimal and vague standards we currently have.

His assertion that the risk of renal failure for LKDs is also incorrect. Kidney donors who’ve been wait listed are 17-20 years post-donation. On this study, maximum follow-up was 15 years, and median follow-up was only 7.6. It simply doesn’t capture the true occurrence.

LKDs are supposedly “healthier” than the general population, so if their risk factor is equal to that of gen-pop post-donation, then kidney donation *does* in fact increase the risk of renal failure. But renal failure is not an LKDs only health risk.

A 10% reduction of kidney function is known to significantly increase one’s risk of cardiovascular disease and death. LKDs experience a 20-40% loss. At 10 yrs post-donation, half of Sweden’s LKDs are hypertensive or have cardiovascular disease. And that’s in a country with a longer life expectancy, healthier lifestyle and universal health care.

What Mezrich doesn’t say is that between 2000 and 2009, 4.4 living kidney donors died in the US every year within one year of donating. 20% of living donors experience physical complications, some of which are painful and chronic. 20-30% suffer from depression, anxiety, anger, grief and/or PTSD. Yet the transplant industry has no psychosocial aftercare available.

He also neglects to mention that we have NO COMPREHENSIVE SHORT OR LONG TERM DATA ON THE HEALTH AND WELL BEING OF lIVING DONORS. OPTN’s database was deemed “useless” for analysis or research in 2009, and even now, 35% are “lost to follow-up” by one year post-donation. (btw, this is the database used in the referenced study)

Mezrich purposely uses inflated wait list statistics. 1/3 of the wait list is “inactive”, meaning they couldn’t undergo a transplant even if an organ became available. 15% of the wait list at any given time has had at least one prior transplant.

According to USRDS, the average age of end-stage renal disease in the US is 64.4 years of age. 44% of ESRD is caused by diabetes, and another 26% by hypertension. Mezrich is WRONG that the “only” solution is to increase living donation. In fact, the only real method of reducing the need for donor kidneys is to invest in robust prevention and treatment programs.
Finally, I’d like to know if Dr. Mezrich has a donated a kidney. It seems reasonable that if he’s going to ask others to relinquish an important organ, he should be willing to do the same.

3 replies on “No folks, it’s not as easy as “save a life, get a new belly button””

All true. More education is needed for the Living Kidney donor, before and after the donation. Family members need to be educated also. The last part is never mentioned at all in the main press. Lifestyle and eating habits of Americans must be changed to lower this need. Where will this country be if our lifestyle habits do not change?

Sigh. At least you can copy/paste most of that info from your archives. I love how you questioned whether the good doctor was a living kidney donor — I hope lead with that next time you challenge a champion of LKD.

There’s another side of this no one talks about which is: should medical professionals be writing articles in mass media publications encouraging healthy folks to undergo a procedure to remove an important organ? A procedure that will, undeniably, eliminate their “healthier than the general population” status?

Dr. Mezrich there (and others of his ilk) would say they’re advocating for their patients by writing such articles, which puts them in a righteous position. But that position is also the biggest “gotcha” of the entire transplant industry – they consider the RECIPIENTS their patients. By not remaining neutral on the issue, by misrepresenting and minimizing the dangers of living donation while emphasizing the quantity and suffering of the would-be recipients, they are placing the interests of the prospective LKD in a position subordinate to that the recipient.

Mezrich et. al. are not only violating their Hippocratic Oath by such behavior, they are acting in their own self-interest. After all, transplants are a huge industry. If the flow of living donors doesn’t continue or increase, transplant surgeons don’t get paid.

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