Dying is Not the End

Unbeknownst to me until I started researching kidney transplant, there is a National Donor Day. According to DonateLife

“Observed every year on February 14th, National Donor Day is an observance dedicated to spreading awareness and education about organ, eye and tissue donation. By educating and sharing the Donate Life message, we can each take small steps every day to help save and heal more lives, and honor the donor’s legacy of generosity and compassion. National Donor Day is a time to focus on all types of donation—organ, eye, tissue, blood, platelets and marrow. Join us by participating in local events, sharing social media messages and encouraging others to register as donors. 

National Donor Day is also a day to recognize those who have given and received the gift of life through organ, eye and tissue donation, are currently waiting for a lifesaving transplant, and those who died waiting because an organ was not donated in time.” 

I would suspect it’s no accident that this is celebrated on Valentine’s Day. 

On to cadaver donor, as promised last week. I’ve been perusing kidney transplant social media sites this past week and found lots of questions by those considering, and meeting the conditions for, a kidney transplant. A number of them wanted to know the difference between a cadaver transplant and a living donor transplant. It’s not as obvious as you might think. 

A cadaver transplant comes from a cadaver, or dead body, as you’ve probably figured out. Sometimes it’s called a deceased or non-living donor transplant. But what are the guidelines for which kidneys are useable and which are not?  Let’s see if the Donor Alliance can help us out with some general background information. 

“Kidney allocation is heavily influenced by waiting time, or how long the recipient has been listed for transplant. Fortunately there is a bridge treatment for many in end-stage renal disease, called dialysis, which allows candidates to survive while awaiting a transplant. In addition, blood type and other biological factors, as well as body size of the donor and recipient are always key factors. Medical urgency and location are also factors but less so than other organs as they [sic] kidney can remain viable outside the body for 24-36 hours under the proper conditions. 

The waiting list is not simply a list of people who are eligible for transplant. It’s a dynamic, complex algorithm based on carefully developed policy that ensures scarce organs are allocated to recipients as fairly and accurately as possible within highly constricted time frames.” 

Okay, so one guideline for a cadaver kidney is that it can remain alive outside the body for 24-36 hours. That seems to indicate, as mentioned above, that the location of both the donor and recipient are important, even though that’s fairly long for cadaver organs. 

I was surprised to learn that there are different types of deceased donor transplants.  

“A deceased donor is an individual who has recently passed away of causes not affecting the organ intended for transplant. Deceased donor organs usually come from people who have decided to donate their organs before death by signing organ donor cards. Permission for donation also may be given by the deceased person’s family at the time of death. 

A deceased donor kidney transplant occurs when a kidney is taken from a deceased donor and is surgically transplanted into the body of a recipient whose natural kidneys are diseased or not functioning properly. 

Types of Deceased Donor Organs 

There are several different types of deceased donor kidneys. These names are used to describe certain anatomic, biological, and social features of the donor organs. You may decide not to receive any or all of these organs, and you may change your mind at any time. 

Standard Criteria Donors (SCD): These kidneys are from donors under age 50 and do not meet any of the criteria below that are assigned to Expanded Criteria Donors. 

Expanded Criteria Donors (ECD): These organs come from donors over age 60 or age 50-59 that also have at least two of the following criteria – history of high blood pressure, the donor passed away from a CVA (stroke) or had a creatinine higher than the normal laboratory value (1.5 mg/dl). About 15-20% of the donors in the United States are Expanded Criteria. 

Donation after Cardiac Death (DCD): These donors do not meet the standard criteria for brain death. Their hearts stopped before the organs were removed. Donation after Cardiac Death occurs when continuing medical care is futile, and the donor patient is to be removed from all medical life-sustaining measures/supports. 

Double Kidney Transplants (Duals): During the year we may have access to donors that are at the more extreme limit of the Expanded Criteria Donor. Research has found that using both of these kidneys in one recipient is preferable to only one. 

Donors with High-Risk Social Behavior: These donors are individuals who at some point in their life practiced high-risk behavior for sexually transmitted disease, drug use, or were incarcerated. All of these donors are tested for transmissible disease at the time of organ recovery. You will be informed of the high-risk behavior. 

All of these kidneys supply suitable organs for transplant, and all are expected to provide good outcomes with good organ function. However, the outcomes may be 5-10% less than that achieved with Standard Criteria organs. Accepting a kidney that is not considered Standard Criteria may substantially reduce your waiting time.” 

Thank you to one of my favorite sources, the Cleveland Clinic for this information. 

While this is not all the information available about deceased kidney donors, I think it’s important to know how to register to be a donor. I registered when I had my first child. Her birth had gotten me to thinking about helping others. 

The Health Resources and Service Administration’s OrganDonor.gov provides the easiest two ways: 

“Signing up on your state registry means that someday you could save lives as a donor—by leaving behind the gift of life. When you register, most states let you choose what organs and tissues you want to donate, and you can update your status at any time.” 

There is a download for your state on their site. The other way is: 

“…in-person at your local motor vehicle department.” 

You know which I hope you choose in the time of Covid. 

I chose to donate my body to science. MedCure is the organization that clinched my decision for me. 

“Everything we know about the human body comes from studying whole body donors. At MedCure, we connect you or your loved ones to the physicians, surgeons, and researchers who are continuing this vital work. Their discoveries and innovations help people live longer, make treatments less invasive, and create new ways to prevent illness or disease. 

We are constantly overwhelmed by the incredible generosity and selflessness of our donors.  MedCure honors their gifts by covering, upon acceptance, all expenses related to the donation process. These costs include transportation from the place of passing, cremation, and a certified copy of the death certificate, as well as the return of cremated remains to the family or a scattering of the ashes at sea. By request, we can provide a family letter that shares more detailed information on how you or your loved one contributed to medical science.” 

Whichever you chose, thank you for saving lives one way or another. 

Until next week, 

Keep living your life!