Does giving a kidney to a stranger make you happy?

Monday 6 August 2012

Tom Cledwyn

NHS researchers are conducting the first study into how people who donate their kidney ‘altruistically’ are emotionally and socially affected.

Most living kidney donations are people who donate to a friend or family member, but since the first ‘non-directed altruistic’ donation was approved in 2006 more than 100 people in the UK have donated a kidney to a stranger.

“More people every year are considering this type of ‘non-directed’ kidney donation, which is fantastic for those waiting on the transplant list – but we need more understanding of how it affects them emotionally and socially in the months and years afterwards so that people thinking of becoming a donor are better informed,” says Dr Hannah Maple, from Guy’s and St Thomas’, who is conducting the study.

“There’s a lot of data about the physical side, such as how long most people take to recover, but until now there hasn’t been a big enough pool of people to measure the psychosocial impact on these donors compared with those who donate to a loved one. Like any surgery, this procedure can never be entirely risk free, but it’s possible that the potential emotional and societal benefits should also be considered when deciding whether to proceed.”

Anecdotally, many non-directed donors say that it has been the most meaningful experience of their life – sometimes above getting married or having children, but it is important to know whether the majority of these donors have a positive impact on their life, and whether any are adversely affected and even regret their donation.

The study is a collaboration with NHS Blood and Transplant. A questionnaire investigating factors such as anxiety, happiness and self-esteem will be sent to all of the UK’s non-directed kidney donors and to a similar number who have known their recipient.

Tom’s story

Most non-directed kidney donors are anonymous but Tom Cledwyn allowed a film crew to make a documentary about the process of becoming a donor. The film follows meetings with a transplant coordinator at King’s College Hospital, and his referral to and operation at Guy’s Hospital.

“I genuinely feel that if more people knew about the possibility of donating their kidney to a stranger then there would be more operations of this type. However, I think there's an equally important opportunity to encourage people to sign up to the Organ Donor Register, which means your organs are donated when you die. Being on the register makes no difference to your life, but it could save or change the lives of a handful of people, as well as their friends and family," said Tom.

"The staff at Guy's and St Thomas' and King's were fantastic and nothing short of inspiring. Also, the NHS assessment process was brilliantly thorough and covered both my psychological and physical fitness over a year-long period, leaving no stone unturned.”

Magnus Roseke, who was Tom’s transplant coordinator said: “It’s great that Tom is helping to raise awareness because although 96 per cent of people in the UK would take a kidney if they needed one, only 30 per cent are on the organ donor register.”

Working together

Tom’s case is an example of how Guy’s and St Thomas’ and King’s College Hospital work together as part of King’s Health Partners to benefit patients.

‘My Kidney & Me’ will be broadcast on More4 at 10pm tonight.

Last updated: August 2012

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