Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why isn't the queue longer for deceased donor kidneys?

There are approximately 80,000 people signed up on the waiting list for deceased donor kidneys in the U.S., and this list has been getting longer. We only manage to do about 11,000 deceased donor transplants a year. (There are another approx. 6000 live donor transplants per year).

Kidney exchange and other innovations in transplantation are attempts to make the list shorter.
But a different kind of public health question is, why isn't the list longer? According to the latest Kidney and Urologic Diseases Statistics for the United States, there are presently just over half a million people suffering from End Stage Renal Disease, of whom just over 350,000 are undergoing dialysis. Why aren't all these folks on the deceased donor transplant list?

Some of them may not be in a position to benefit from a transplant, e.g. they may have other critical illnesses, or may not be healthy enough to undergo major surgery. But some of them may just not be getting adequate information about transplantation. Here's a story about that from the St. Louis Post Dispatch: Program touts kidney transplants over dialysis.

"Several years ago, Amy Waterman, assistant professor of medicine and a social psychologist at Washington University, realized that most people with kidney failure go on dialysis and stay on it until they die.

She studied more than 1,000 renal patients and living donors and found that they're often so overwhelmed with information about dialysis, including necessary lifestyle changes, that they're given little or no information on kidney transplants in the crucial months after being diagnosed"
..."But time is of the essence because patients spend an average of four years on transplant waiting lists, yet only about a third of all dialysis patients live more than five years after diagnosis, Waterman says. In comparison, 70 percent to 80 percent of those who get kidney transplants live more than five years."

On a related matter, Dorry Segev of Johns Hopkins is quoted in a press release about a forthcoming article in the AJT suggesting that too few elderly patients are put on the waiting list for extended criteria deceased donor kidneys: Seniors Stymied in Wait for Kidney Transplants

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