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Do kidney donors die younger?

With the chronic shortage of kidneys for transplantation, more and more people are turning to family members, friends or other living donors. In fact, the number of live donor kidney transplants in the United States has nearly doubled over the last 15 years--from about 3,000 to nearly 6,000. But the question that has always accompanied the trend is whether people who donate one of their kidneys are putting their own health at risk over the long-term. A major new study says they're not.

Dorry Segev of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and colleagues studied 80,347 people who donated a kidney around the United States between April 1, 1994 and March 21, 2009, There were 25 deaths in the first 90 days after donation surgery during the 15-year period. That translates into a risk of 3.1 per 10,000 cases, which is lower than the risk from gallbladder removal.

But more importantly, the overall risk of death between the donors and a similar group of 9,364 people who did not donate a kidney was essentially identical within a year of the surgery and for the 12-year follow-up period.

That indicates that people do not put themselves at increased risk of shortening their lives by agreeing to give up one of their kidneys.

By Rob Stein  |  March 9, 2010; 4:00 PM ET
Categories:  Organ Transplants  
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Comments

I donated my kidney to my brother in 1988 and I am happy to report that we are both doing wonderfully. He is now married with three children. I am now married with one child. I am ever so glad and blessed to have my brother still with me.

Posted by: catalpacasa | March 9, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

How old were the donors? If they were in their 30s and 40s I don't think it's surprising that they weren't dead after 12 years. My concern is what happens as they get into their 60s and hit normal age-related decline in kidney function. Non-donors have a secong kidney to help them keep up; it seems hard to believe donors wouldn't pay a price eventually.

Posted by: qaz1231 | March 9, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

If I remember correctly, the doctors who performed my surgery said that each kidney can support two lifetimes of functioning as they are two (or for me, one) of the more durable organs we have.

Posted by: catalpacasa | March 9, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

If I remember correctly, the doctors who performed my surgery said that each kidney can support two lifetimes of functioning as they are two (or for me, one) of the more durable organs we have.
-------------------------------------------

Not to say that the doctors who performed your surgery are liars, but they obviously have a vested interest - beyond the survival of the donor and recipient - in performing transplant operations (i.e. $$$). Contrary to popular belief, there is still a lot that the medical profession doesn't know about the human body; additionally, declaring that "because the donors are OK 12 years after the transplant, that means they should be OK thereafter" is the epitome of flawed statistical analysis (and flawed logic). The real question is this: IF it turned out that kidney donors DID significantly risk shortening their lifespan by donating, and the surgeons knew about this significant risk, would they disclose that knowledge to the potential donor prior to the operation?

Posted by: dfl1 | March 9, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

"But more importantly, the overall risk of death between the donors and a similar group of 9,364 people who did not donate a kidney was essentially identical within a year of the surgery and for the 12-year follow-up period.

That indicates that people do not put themselves at increased risk of shortening their lives by agreeing to give up one of their kidneys."

Not true.

That indicates that people do not put themselves at increased risk of dying within 12 years of a kidney transplant operation. Nothing more.

Posted by: kent_eng | March 9, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

I can speak only for myself, but I donated a kidney 14 years ago and I'm now 70 and am as healthy as ever.

Posted by: jebjayman | March 9, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

"The real question is this: IF it turned out that kidney donors DID significantly risk shortening their lifespan by donating, and the surgeons knew about this significant risk, would they disclose that knowledge to the potential donor prior to the operation?"

______________________________________________

I was told that it might significantly reduce my life. There was no sugar coating in that regard by the doctors. The real question when it came right down to it was not if the doctors were trying to scam us out of money (or the Kidney Foundation which paid for mine), but:


IF I COULD SAVE MY BROTHERS LIFE EVEN IF IT MEANT IT COULD POSSIBLY SHORTEN MINE, WOULD I DO IT?

In my book, there was no question.

Posted by: catalpacasa | March 9, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

I'd be concerned with hospital acquired infections as well as the lack of the second kidney, but still there are plenty of people in my life who I would donate to keep around. God, I hope this never comes up and if it does it isn't due to someones poor lifestyle choices.

Posted by: ThomasFiore | March 9, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

Ditto @kent_eng. The article's conclusion is not supported by this study: we _can_ say that we do not have evidence to support differential survival between kidney donors and non-donors in a 12-year period.

Also, it is customary in articles of this nature to cite the journal and edition of the (presumably published) study. Were these findings peer-reviewed? How "similar" was the comparison group? What was their mortality rate in comparison to 3.1/1000?

And why are there so many different time spans identified (90 days, 1 year, 12 year, 15 year)? Search hard enough and it will be possible to find time period where the survival is equivalent..

Posted by: suj198 | March 9, 2010 7:27 PM | Report abuse

As someone that has researched living donation extensively for two law school papers, there are donors in their 60s and 70s.

My husband received a kidney from a donor in their 60s and that kidney lasted far longer than most cadaver kidneys. If it can sustain function in a hostile immune system, I am sure an older person would be just fine with one functioning kidney.

There are additional studies that show that living donors rarely need a transplant themselves. In the event they do suffer renal failure, they are given priority on the transplant list.

I have been considered by three different transplant centers for living donation (highly sensitized husband)and have received very detailed informed consent.

As some of the other readers have stated, I would rather have my husband than a long life as a widow.

Posted by: lawphi | March 10, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

I tried to donate a kidney to a non-relative. I was rejected by two transplant centers. One was the place where the operation would have happened, the second did a records review at my request and that of the potential recipient. Consensus was that I will be fine for the rest of my life with two kidneys at their current level of function but that at my age (close to 60), I need both of them. I am in very good health but not good enough to meet the rigorous standard to ensure long term donor health. Other would be donors in my age cohort washed out, too. Looks like 50 is the cutoff point.

Posted by: pirate1 | March 10, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

The generosity of live organ donors is wonderful. It's a shame we need so many live organ donors. Americans bury or cremate 20,000 transplantable organs every year.

There is another good way to put a big dent in the organ shortage -- if you don't agree to donate your organs when you die, then you go to the back of the waiting list if you ever need an organ to live.

Giving organs first to organ donors will convince more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system fairer. About 50% of the organs transplanted in the United States go to people who haven't agreed to donate their own organs when they die.

Anyone who wants to donate their organs to others who have agreed to donate theirs can join LifeSharers. LifeSharers is a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at www.lifesharers.org or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition. LifeSharers has 13,000 members, including 30 members in Washington D.C.


David J. Undis
Executive Director
LifeSharers
www.lifesharers.org

Posted by: dave65 | March 10, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

There isn't enough information in this article to reach any reasonable conclusions. 12 years is not a long enough period of time to assume anything.

Posted by: floof | March 10, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

I'm concerned with the mind set that people can live just fine on one kidney. I have had several operations on my left kidney that have left me with little energy, not wanting to get out of bed. That my latest $40,000 surgeries were a result of "causing" a kidney stone 8 years ago by an unscrupulous doctor and hospital reinforces my belief that a solo kidney theory can become a source of income. This also points to the lack of accountability in our present system. If I only have one good kidney, I can personally attest that I am not what I was before by a long shot.

Posted by: mcdermottmike1 | March 10, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

I donated a kidney in 1994. I'm now 77 years old and in good health. The tests that I went through before I was accepted as a donor were extraordinarily thorough. Transplant teams have a deep vested interest in success, so they will not take marginal donors. As it turned out, the kidney I donated was rejected. Nonetheless, I have absolutely no regrets about donating. It's probably the best single thing I have done or ever will do in my life.

Posted by: bdhauer | March 10, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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