Nearly 80,000 Americans are currently waiting for a kidney transplant, but the odds of getting one soon are grim. Only 17,000 transplants are performed annually, and many candidates wait years on dialysis or die in the meantime.
The growing number of paired kidney swaps and, more recently, donor chains take a mathematical approach to solving the country’s kidney shortage. Swaps involve two or more pairs of recipients and donors, often family members. One pair is incompatible with each other but the donor matches the recipient in another incompatible pair, whose donor matches the other recipient.
Transplant chains take it one step further with a domino approach, in which a mismatched donor “pays it forward” by giving to another patient with an incompatible donor, and so on. The matching approach could lead to hundreds, if not thousands, of additional live-organ transplants, but only as the donor-recipient pool grows.
The effort could get a big boost from Aetna, the first major insurer to throw its heft behind a kidney matching network. The company has awarded the National Kidney Registry, a computerized matching service, a $50,000 grant to help it scale up its efforts. Perhaps more importantly, it plans a mass-communication campaign to encourage its 3,385 plan members who are waiting for a kidney to sign up with the registry in the hope they bring their own incompatible donors with them.
The move makes a lot of sense for a health insurer, says Aetna President Mark Bertolini, who donated his own kidney to his 23-year-old son, Eric, a cancer survivor, two years ago. The yearly cost of dialysis is approximately $50,0000 compared with $8,500 to treat someone who is recovering from a transplant. “We’ll encourage all of our competitors to do this, too,” he said.
Over the past 14 months, the National Kidney Registry said it has facilitated 31 kidney transplants and has identified another 36 matches it hopes will lead to transplants soon.
“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Sign Your Donor Card & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
In Great Britain, register at NHS Organ Donor Register
In Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register
Your generosity can save up to eight lives with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants. One tissue donor can help up to 100 other people by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves