PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Right now there are 100 people in Maine on the transplant list, waiting for a kidney. Some are getting desperate as dialysis continues to drain them of their energy and memory.
But there aren't enough deceased donors, and even fewer living donors to help them.
There is a transplant program right here in Maine that is encouraging more people to help save lives and to "Share their Spare." It recently completed its second kidney transplant chain, in which people willing to donate a kidney to a loved one but aren't a match, are paired with others who are.
This chain involved six people: three donors and three recipients; and last week, they all met for the first time. If not for the two altruistic donors — those who gave for no reason to help someone else — all three might still be waiting on the transplant list.
Many won't make it. According to the National Kidney Foundation, every day, 13 people die while waiting for a kidney. And every 14 minutes someone is added to the list.
There aren't enough donors. In 2015, 8,500 kidneys were transplanted from deceased donors in this country – 5600 living donors gave one of their kidneys to someone in need. But there were 110,000 people on the list.
Transplant surgeon Dr. Juan Palma said people live just fine with one kidney. He said, "your chances of yourself needing a kidney are less than one in 10,000 to 20,000. It's safe to donate. Donation is safe." But he goes on the say that this is major surgery, so complications can arise.
None of the donors knew to whom their kidneys were going. None of the recipients knew whose kidney they were getting. When they met for the first time, there were hugs and tears all around.
Kidney recipient Anne Hebert said of her donor, "Karen gave me life. Karen gave me, my family, hope. She gave my family their mom, their daughter, their sister and their mother back."
Donor John Powers said of the experience, "I only needed two weeks, which was amazing. Physically, it was a quick recovery. Spiritually, it was incredible. I can't imagine anything in life giving me more reward."
The Maine Transplant Program aims to perform 30 transplants this year, but it needs donors.
To encourage people to give, they are working with lawmakers to make sure that organ donation continues to stay off the list of pre-existing conditions, and that organ donors — who, by the way, don't pay medical expenses; the recipients do — can also get reimbursed for the two weeks or so they might miss from work.
Dr. Palma also believes that the U.S. should do what other countries have done and give donor health insurance for life. He said these people want to do the right thing, and it's time this country did the right thing by them.