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Encourage Kidney Donations and Transplants during Donate Life Month

April is National Donate Life Month (NDLM), a time dedicated to encouraging Americans to register as organ, eye and tissue donors and to celebrate those who have given life by donating. As physicians, we see patients from across the kidney disease spectrum, from early stage to end stage renal disease (ESRD) and transplant eligibility. Dialysis is an effective way of treating ESRD, but most patients do not see it as their only long-term choice. One of the greatest gifts we can give our patients is to encourage them to consider transplantation and to help them navigate the sometimes-turbulent waters of transplant evaluation. In addition, we can help raise awareness to those who are capable of donating a kidney.

In an effort to raise awareness of the need for organ donation, Donate Life America helped institute NDLM in 2003. 95 percent of Americans say they support organ donation, and more people are registering every year, but the gap between donors and candidates for donation continues to increase. Of the more than 100,000 patients waiting for a kidney transplant, only 17 percent will receive a transplant this year. In addition, 13 people who are activing awaiting transplant will die every day. The disparity between needed organs and available donations arises partly because Americans do not really understand the transplant process, are not aware of all transplant options or believe prevailing myths regarding living donor transplantation.

As care providers, we are in a unique position to ensure individuals are familiar with all living donor options (including waiting list and chain donations) and to help mitigate the fears and dispel the myths about living donation. Researchers continue to study and illuminate the relative safety of organ donation for living donors. According to a study by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, there is very little medical risk related to living organ donation, and people who donate one of their kidneys are likely to live just as long as those who have two healthy ones.

Those who cannot or do not wish to donate a kidney during their lifetime can enroll in a state donor registry; the easiest way is to sign up at the DMV. We no longer have to sign the backs of our driver’s licenses but instead can register when we obtain or renew our licenses. More than twice as many donations come from deceased donors as living ones. Anyone over 18 can register on their own as an organ donor, whether as a living donor or as a donor after he or she passes away. I am registered—Are you?

This April and over the upcoming months, I will be encouraging friends, family, colleagues and others who are interested to visit the National Kidney Registry to start the process of registering as a donor. Raising awareness of the importance of being an organ donor is the first step in increasing the number of lives we can save through organ donation. So much of our work deals with helping our patients manage their disease, but we can also help increase their life span and quality of life by encouraging others to register as organ donors. You can also join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #DonateLife.

Keep in mind what Winston Churchill said: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

Allen R. Nissenson, MD, FACP, FASN, FNKF

Allen R. Nissenson, MD, FACP, FASN, FNKF

Prolific author and renowned authority on kidney disease, Allen R. Nissenson, MD, is chief medical officer for DaVita Kidney Care and emeritus professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, where he has served as director of the dialysis program and associate dean. Dr. Nissenson is also co-chair of the Kidney Care Partners Quality Initiative. Dr. Nissenson served as a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow of the Institute of Medicine from 1994–1995 and worked in the office of the late Senator Paul Wellstone. He is a former president of the Renal Physicians Association (RPA), served on the RPA Board of Directors as a special advisor to the president and is a former president of the Southern California End-Stage Renal Disease Network. He is the author of more than 700 scientific papers and the editor of two dialysis textbooks, one in its fourth edition and the other just released in its 5th edition. Dr. Nissenson earned his medical degree from Northwestern University Medical School and is the recipient of various awards, including the AAKP Medal of Excellence award, the Lifetime Achievement Award in Hemodialysis and the National Kidney Foundation “Man of the Year” award. Twitter: @DrNissenson