The Internet has given people the opportunity to be a hero by becoming a live-organ donor.
Each year, March is recognized as National Kidney Month to bring awareness to kidney disease, of which 1 in 3 Americans are at risk, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Because of the overwhelming need for kidney transplants, national websites such as Matchingdonors.com have paved the way for a stranger to offer the gift of life to someone they don't even know.
Up until 2006, policy and law prevented altruistic living organ donors from giving a piece of themselves to another in hopes of saving a life. But, all of that changed when websites such as Matchingdonors.com began matching patients in need of an organ with those willing to give one.
Pictured are Paul Cardinale, of Jamestown, and William Thomas, of Kodiak, Ala. Thomas used matchingdonors.com to find Cardinale and donate a kidney to him.
Photo courtesy of www.matchingdonors.com
There is a perfect example of an act of generosity via Matchingdonors.com that saved a life in Western New York. Jeanette Ostrom, who is currently the president of Kidney Connection Inc., has a son named Paul Cardinale, of Jamestown, who was born without valves in his ureters. The disease, called reflux, damaged his kidneys as Cardinale grew up. So, from his birth Ostrom knew that he would eventually need a transplant. Cardinale's father donated the first kidney, which lasted for 10 years. But, then he needed another, and that's when his story was posted on Matchingdonors.com. Via the website, Cardinale's story reached William Thomas, who traveled from Alaska to Buffalo to give one of his kidneys to Cardinale.
"The hardest thing for a mother to face was that I couldn't do anything about it, I couldn't give him one my kidneys because he is blood type O and I'm B," said Ostrom. "I found someone on Matchingdonors.com, but we couldn't get a hospital to agree to doing a transplant with a stranger. Then a year later a couple friends and I approached the board of the hospital, and they changed the policy moving forward. So, it opened the door for anyone in this area to receive a kidney from a stranger. So, thanks to Matchingdonors.com and William Thomas my son now has a kidney."
According to Ostrom, the success of the website inspired her to start a local version, www.wnykidneyconnection.org. The website connects those in need of a kidney to donors in Western New York, which eliminates the associated travel cost. It is also particularly useful because the success rate of a kidney from a live donor is much higher.
"A kidney from a living donor is so much better for you - it lasts longer and usually starts working right away," said Ostrom.
The website, wnykidneyconnection.org, lists patients in the area in need of a kidney, so that people can read their stories and decide whether they want to help the person by becoming a live organ donor.
"Statistically 18 people every day across this country die because of the need of a kidney," said Ostrom. "And, many people don't know that they can be live donors. You only need one (kidney), God gave you two, so you could share your spare."
For more information call 450-8958 or visit www.wnykidneyconnection.org.
According to Paul Dooley, CEO of Matchingdonors.com, patients waiting for an organ donation are placed on a national waiting list that could take seven to nine years to find a match. Yet, those who utilize Matchingdonors.com may get a transplant within six months of signing up.
Dooley co-founded the nonprofit Matchingdonors.com in 2004 with a friend of his named Dr. Jeremiah Lowney. It began with a story that Dooley, a patient of Lowney's, related to Lowney about his father who needed a kidney transplant. Dooley's father was to be put on the national transplantation waiting list, which was so long that by the time a kidney became available his father might not even be around.
"He eventually ended up dying, and it always stuck with Paul," said Lowney. "Paul, who is also the founder of CollegeJobBoard.com, already knew the nuts and bolts behind matching people. So, he came to me with the idea of matching people who need kidneys to people willing to donate one in the live donor realm. At first I thought, 'Who would donate to a stranger?' But, sure enough there was a National Kidney Foundation survey in 2001 of 1,000 people that 25 percent of which said they would be willing to donate to a complete stranger. That's when I went back to Paul and said, 'You might be onto something that could potentially help a lot of people.'"
According to Lowney, the website has been quite successful at matching live organ donors with patients.
"We've had close to 300 people now that have received kidneys from matches on Matchingdonors.com," said Lowney. "Our goal is to reverse the trend because right now it is upward as far as people waiting on the list. When we first started, there were 80,000 people on the waiting list, and now there are more than 100,000. So, it is getting worse, and people need to be aware that they can donate while alive."
Donating a kidney is a big deal though, and it isn't for everybody, said Lowney.
"I think live organ donors are the most heroic people," said Lowney. "You have so much time to back out, and you have to go through testing, which is a process. But, they move forward, fight through the struggle and still donate. Everyday I think it's amazing that people do this - because they are saving lives. They are not only affecting the person they are giving the kidney to, but also their family and friends. It's really a beautiful, loving thing that these people do."
It's also something that doesn't put the donor at too much of a risk, said Lowney. The outcome for someone who only has one kidney is positive. According to Lowney, a few years ago the New England Journal of Medicine released an article about the effects of patients donating a kidney 30 years out from the transplant.
"It was the news we had been waiting for because they found that there is no difference in health," said Lowney. "It made the transplant centers and the people who donated feel comfortable doing it. There are risks associated with the surgery, and you'll likely be out of work from anywhere between two weeks and two months, but it is a great act of love."
For more information call 800-385-0422 or visit Matchingdonors.com.