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Dublin: 21 °C Monday 22 July, 2019
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A living kidney donor writes: 'We need to encourage more donors – living or deceased'

Living donor kidney transplants are growing in number here. Donors can be family members, friends or even altruistic donors, writes Enda Fanning.

Enda Fanning

IF YOU HAD told me a year ago that I’d be sitting here writing about living kidney donation and that the donor would be me, I would have laughed out loud. But here I am doing just that.

A good friend of mine has suffered kidney disease in recent times and for most of the last year was on nightly dialysis. He needed a new kidney, sooner rather than later.

Getting yourself on the deceased donors list is generally the first step. However there is approximately a three-year wait for a deceased kidney donor and that all depends on finding a compatible kidney. A kidney from a living donor offers a much greater chance of success and has a much shorter lead-in time.

Looking for a donor

Tadhg’s family and another friend initially put themselves forward as possible living donors but unfortunately none worked out. By the end of May 2016 I had attended my first tests in Beaumont Hospital which as far as I can remember concerned blood tissue compatibility. There then followed a few more visits and finally cross match tests with Tadhg as the recipient.

It is important to note that at all times the Transplant Coordinating team, while assessing a donor, will explain the worst case scenarios possible and that a donor can always pull out at any time, up to the last minute.

In addition, the team are aware that there can be financial implications for donors with time being taken off work, and information concerning the HSE Financial Reimbursement Scheme is provided for donors. As the recuperation period is slow enough it is important that a donor does not lose out financially.

Operation day

Enda Fanning & Tadhg O'Connell after the kidney transplant operation Enda Fanning and Tadhg O'Connell after the kidney transplant operation.

Eventually our designated date – December 12 - arrived. We both had great support from our wives, children and other family members. I don’t think Florence Nightingale herself could have kept up with the workload and support our wives Lucy and Sheelagh put in.

The transplant operation took place and it all went well for both me and more importantly, for Tadhg. It is still early days and a lot of monitoring is still ahead but Tadhg’s new kidney is settling into its new home very well.

He has had no dialysis since before the transplant operation, is feeling very well and his medical team are very happy with progress. Things are looking very good.

Just five days after the operation I was discharged from hospital (Tadhg had to stay a bit longer) but by the time Christmas came we were all at home with our respective families.

Need to talk about live donor transplants

My intention in writing this article is to highlight the whole issue of kidney transplants, particularly live donor transplants. Beaumont Hospital had about a 50% increase in living donor kidney transplant operations last year. I believe donating my kidney was around the fiftieth for the year.

While there has been a big increase in living donors there has also been a fall-off in organ donations following death. The rate of deceased organ donation has steadily decreased due to a number of welcome factors, most notably improvements in road safety and neurosurgical care.

The growth in the living donor programme has partially offset this decline in deceased donors but with 171 new patients added to the waiting list last year, the rate of transplantation is still not keeping pace with demand. More living donors are required.

Tadhg O'Connell & Enda Fanning  3 Tadhg and Enda.

Presumed consent would be ideal

A living kidney donor does not have to be related to a potential recipient, but the organ must match. There were 568 patients on the kidney transplant waiting list in Ireland at the end of 2015, a reduction on the previous year. A total of 153 kidney transplants were performed in 2015.

While the average waiting time for a deceased donor kidney transplant is nearly three years, if a suitable and willing living donor can be identified, the transplant can proceed in a matter of months. In my case it took around five months from my first visit to Beaumont to the transplant operation taking place.

It costs about €60,000 to keep someone on dialysis for a year, while a kidney transplant costs around €25,000. It is not rocket science to see the possible financial savings in the health sector if we encourage more and more donors – whether living or deceased.

I would love to see Ireland follow France’s new policy since January 1 where, along with a number of European countries such as Spain and Austria, “presumed consent” now applies. Everybody becomes a donor of organs and tissues when they die – unless they specifically choose to opt out. How simple would that be to adopt here?

Enda Fanning is an architect and a Sinn Féin councillor for the Templeogue-Terenure ward in South Dublin. For more information on live kidney donations please watch this Beaumont Hospital video - “What you need to know about donating a kidney.” 

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Enda Fanning

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