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The Benefits of Live Donor Kidney Transplant

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The Benefits of Live Donor Kidney Transplant

Feb 06, 2014

Organ donations often come from people who’ve died unexpectedly in accidents or from natural causes, but healthy, living people can give certain organs, such as kidneys, too. People donate organs for various and sometimes surprising reasons. Transplant surgeon Dr. Jeffery Campsen discusses live kidney donations, how safe they are for donors, and how they improve recipients’ lives. He also talks about how live donor kidney chains increase the number of lives saved.

Episode Transcript

Announcer: Medical news and research, from University Utah physicians and specialists, you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Scot: You may have heard in the news about a live donor kidney chain, that was started a few months ago, by a donor named Ted Bartling. Meaning, he came in, said I want to donate my kidney to somebody and, in doing that, many other people volunteered to donate their kidney and lives were improved and saved. We're talking with Dr. Jeffrey Campsen, surgical director of Live Donor Kidney Transplants. Let's talk about kidney donation. Let's talk about how you could do it, how safe is it, and how does it really improve somebody's life.

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: So, Ted Bartling is a good example. This is an individual that felt like he really wanted to do something for his community. He's very productive in the world, has a great job, but he felt something was missing; He wanted to do something more. So, he comes to us and says I'd like to donate my kidney. Well, we have a bunch of patients that actually have donors, but they're not compatible. We were able to create a chain of three kidney transplants from him.

Scot: How does somebody come to want to donate a kidney? How does that decision come to be?

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: So I think there are a couple reasons and there are a couple types of individuals. There's people that are within the family of someone who has kidney disease and they cannot stand to see their family member dying and, basically, they're the hero that goes in and can, literally, save this person's life. The second type of person is someone who feels like they want to do something for their community. So they come in and they, basically, say look, I want to donate my kidney to somebody and, a lot of times, it's to one person that they don't know, and, other times, they start a chain. We've done that here in Utah recently, where they can start a chain of three, four, five kidney transplants in a row. So, their ability to donate one kidney, ultimately, can help anywhere between one patient to five patients.

Scot: I love that. I might donate a kidney if I knew that, maybe, it would get a chain going.

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: So if someone comes in, wanting to donate a kidney, even if they have a recipient, we ask them if they'd be willing to donate to someone other than their own recipient. We look at other patients, that have donors that are incompatible, and we see if we can pair them up.

Scot: It's like solving a puzzle. You've got all the pieces, you just have to figure out how they best go together.

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: That's exactly right and the University of Utah has a transplant team who specializes in solving kidney transplant puzzles.

Scot: Do you find that donors tend to fall in some sort of a demographic group? Is it people later in life? Is it richer people, poorer people?

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: No, it's all people. We had some very young donors come by lately. Meaning 18 and 19 years old.

Scot: Eighteen and nineteen? Really? And, did you ask them why?

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: Well, one girl, who actually ended up donating, wants to go to medical school. She actually wants to be a transplant surgeon and she felt that there would be no better way to understand her patients than if she actually donated her kidney.

Scot: Wow. That's dedication, on a couple of levels.

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: It is, but on the same hand, we just transplanted a pair, where the husband's kidney failed, and he's in his 60's, and his wife is 60, and she donated her kidney to him. Now, they come in together as a couple and their going to live their lives a lot longer because now, he's not on dialysis, and it's going to extend his life. So it's the spectrum, both sides, and, then, there's a bunch of people in the middle.

Scot: If I give up one of my kidneys, I have two of them, and even that one is more than I need, are there concerns that I would have? Like, I might want both, just in case one of them fails.

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: Our priority, in this entire conversation, is the safety of the donor. So, we have a live donor kidney transplant team, here at the University of Utah, that specializes in making sure that the donors will be safe after transplant.

Scot: How many people actually donate kidneys?

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: There are thousands of people, each year, that donate kidneys. Interestingly, kidney donation in the United States peaked around 2004, with about 7000 people that year donating. Since then, it's actually trickled off. I think, the last year, in 2012, only about 4 or 5 thousand people were donating. So, for some reason, it's gone down and one of the things that we wanted to do today was, basically, raise awareness that this is very safe for the donor and that's our priority, but, also, it is the best way to do a kidney transplant. The results are better than any other way to do a kidney transplant.

Scot: So a live kidney is much better than a kidney from somebody that passed away and was an organ donor.

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: That's exactly right. For lack of a better word, we only cherry-pick the very best kidneys for live donation, again, for the safety of the donor. Where as a cadaveric donor, while those kidneys are very good, that patient has died and, from that death, the kidneys have sustained some trauma and, so, there's a difference in the quality of the kidney, but if that's all that's available, that's what we're going to use because that kidney transplant is still vastly superior to dialysis.

Scot: Tell me about the lifestyle impacts of the recipient of a kidney donation. How does it change their life, in your experience?

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: Well, one, they no longer have kidney failure. It sounds simple, but that's true. Kidney failure is life ending. Then, two, the way that they've survived at this point is probably they're on dialysis. So it stops dialysis. Dialysis is three times a week, four hours at each run, and you don't feel great afterwards. So, all of a sudden, they have all this free time, they feel better, and, again, a machine can't replace a human organ. So, the quality of filtration that the kidney transplant is doing is better than any other method and they just feel better.

Scot: And what are your final thoughts?

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: I think that if you're able to donate your kidney, that's wonderful. What you can do is you can, basically, help somebody, you can be a hero to your community and that person, and, then, the ripple effect that happens from that is then that person goes back into the community and helps the community as a functioning person.

Announcer: We're your daily does of science conversation medicine. This is The Scope. University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.