Call for more 'Good Samaritan' kidney donors

Friday 4 September 2015

Call for more 'Good Samaritan' kidney donors

One of the UK’s leading transplant surgeons wants more people to consider donating a kidney to help save the life of a stranger.  

Speaking ahead of National Transplant Week (7–13 September), Mr Nizam Mamode, clinical lead for transplant surgery at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and co-author of a major study on altruistic kidney donation, praises the ‘Good Samaritans’ choosing to make these donations and highlights how their generosity is helping to meet the pressing national need for kidney transplants.

More than 5,000 people are on the NHS waiting list for a kidney transplant. Around 300 people die while waiting for a kidney each year in the UK – almost one a day.

Altruistic kidney donation – also known as unspecified kidney donation – is when a living person donates a kidney to a stranger with whom they have no genetic or emotional relationship.

Research carried out by Mr Mamode and other top transplant specialists into the motivations, outcomes, and characteristics of altruistic donors establishes that this form of donation is safe to expand as a national programme.

The research, which involved surveying all 148 people in the UK who made an altruistic kidney donation between 2007 and 2012, is the largest study of altruistic donors that has ever been conducted.

It shows that altruistic donors have similar physical and psychological outcomes to those donating to someone they know. Altruistic donors recover as quickly from surgery and are no more likely to suffer from stress or regret. 

Mr Mamode says: “The number of kidneys available for transplant is a life or death issue for patients on the waiting list. This is why it’s so crucial to raise awareness of altruistic organ donation.

“We’re increasingly reliant on those ‘Good Samaritans’ who become altruistic kidney donors, which is why we decided it was important to improve our understanding of what motivates altruistic donors and what the experience means for them. Our research means we can now say with great certainty that altruistic donation is safe and successful. It’s a viable option for people who are determined to help others in need.”

The donation of a kidney from a living person to a stranger was only legalised in the UK in 2006. It has since led to more than 400 donations across the UK. In many countries, however, unspecified organ donation is illegal and historically there have been concerns that altruistic donors will regret their decision.  

Altruistic donor Robert Wiggins, 59, from Kings Lanley in Hertfordshire, had his kidney removed by Mr Mamode at Guy's Hospital in 2013. Robert says: "When I first heard about altruistic kidney donation I decided to look into it a bit more. 

"I soon realised that I was walking around with an organ I didn't require that I could instead use to help another human being in desperate need. When I considered the inconvenience and risk to myself balanced against the chance to save a person's life, I felt compelled to become a donor.

"The surgery to remove my kidney went smoothly and my recovery went well. I was out of hospital within 48 hours, walking easily in a week, and back at work in three weeks.

“I knew it was definitely all worthwhile when I heard my kidney had been successfully transplanted into another person. To be able to make that positive difference to somebody's life is an incredible feeling." 

Robert went on to become a trustee of the charity Give a Kidney and he now campaigns to raise awareness of altruistic organ donation.  

Last updated: September 2015

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