So I’d like you to indulge me in an idea I have that’s a little bit crazy.
First, a little background. Kidneys are organs that, along with the liver, process toxins in your body. Toxins processed by the kidney are eliminated through urine. You really only need one to get the job done, but we each have two.
Really bad things can happen if both your kidneys stop working, which can happen for many reasons, including lifelong “lifestyle” diseases like diabetes and hypertension which tend to happen in older people as well as less common genetic or autoimmune diseases, which tend to strike people when they’re younger.
If both your kidneys get knocked out, you’re in trouble. Toxins and other electrolytes can build up to dangerous levels and cause all sorts of problems with your other organs. It’s not possible to live this way for very long.
For this reason, people with end stage renal disease (ESRD) have two options. They can go on dialysis for the rest of their lives (where you get hooked up to a machine that filters your blood three times a week for hours at at time), or they can get a kidney transplant, if they’re fortunate enough to be at the top of the transplant list, or have a friend or family member who’s the right blood match and willing to donate a kidney.
According to one source, there are 80,000 people on the national waiting list for kidney donation, and only 20,000 kidneys from deceased donors are transplanted a year.
So on that note, let me introduce you to my little thought experiment. What if we lived in a drastically different world. A world where people didn’t hold onto their extra kidney, but donated it freely to whoever needed it. A world where everyone signed up to a central kidney registry with some basic health info, including blood type, and whenever someone needed a kidney, they were picked up to donate theirs. It could even be required to sign up – like a draft.
But what if you donate a kidney but then develop a disease so the one you have left stops working? No problem. Someone else will donate their kidney back to you. There are more than enough kidneys to go around if everyone donates them freely.
I know it sounds a little crazy – I mean, our government can’t even manage to reduce the wait time at the DMV below 3 hours, so how could we trust any sort of central agency to manage kidneys? There are many other complicating issues too, as the surgery to remove a donor kidney has risks, and anyone who receives a kidney transplant needs to be on heavy-hitting immunosuppressive medications for the rest of their lives to prevent organ rejection.
Just forget about the the nitty gritty details of it for a moment and consider the concept.
If everyone were willing to donate a kidney to someone who needed it, we could instantaneously reduce the kidney transplant waiting list to zero. We could eliminate the need for long-term dialysis, which costs Medicare over $25 billion a year.
So why are we all greedily holding onto our extra kidneys, when there are thousands of people out there who need one?
What do you guys think? Would you consider donating your kidney to a stranger who needed one?
Image by Beverly & Pack