While television shows most often depict people getting transplanted kidneys from family members or other live donors for dramatic purposes, the reality is that over 75 percent of Americans would be ineligible to donate a kidney while alive. This is a life-threatening issue for the more than 101,000 people waiting for a kidney transplant and the 12 who die per day while waiting to receive a kidney transplant.
The shortage of viable kidneys has been documented as the waiting list gets longer. Fewer than 17,000 kidney transplants took place in the U.S. during 2013, according to the National Kidney Foundation. One-third of those kidneys came from living kidney donors. Of those about one-fourth are from non-biologically related kidney donors.
At issue is that fact that most in the U.S. would not qualify as a potential donor for health or financial reasons. This is according to a research study presented Friday, Nov. 14, at the American Society of Nephrology Kidney Week meeting in Philadelphia. Dr. Anthony Bleyer, a nephrologist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, spearheaded the study, entitled “A Population-Based Study of the U.S. Population Shows the Majority of Persons Cannot Donate due to Preventable Diseases and Socio-Economic Conditions, ” which highlights the fact that three-fourths of the American population would be ineligible to donate even if they wanted. Bleyer wanted to study the potential donor pool for a population-based study to determine where the lack of kidney donors is greatest.
To determine what percentage of U.S. adults could actually qualify to be kidney donors, Bleyer’s team developed a study using data on more than 7,000 American adults in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). They developed an in-depth study modeled around which patients might be accepted as a potential match based on the criteria used at most transplant centers.
The study evaluated the information available on those aged 21 to 70. The team looks at details known about health conditions to determine how many eligible donors could be found. They immediately disqualified people with health conditions that would prevent them from donating an organ while alive. That included anyone who is obese, a heavy drinker, or had been diagnosed with skin cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, HIV, coronary heart disease or congestive heart failure. That eliminated nearly 55 percent of the adults.
The team also studied and disqualified those people who earned below the poverty line. Those people usually are incapable of donating their kidney because they would not be able to miss work for the two- to three-week recovery period after the operation. By the time, they also eliminated non-citizens, who may not be available for follow-up care, as well as smokers, the tally climbed over the 75 percent mark.
The researchers found that socio-economic factors play a significant role in kidney donations far beyond the ability to take time off of work for recovery. Those who earn less are less likely to qualify for health reasons too. About 60 percent of those with an annual income around $35,000 have medical conditions that preclude donating. Whereas, only 49 percent of those earning over $100,000 annually had health issues that would eliminate them as potential kidney donors.
The research demonstrated that health issues and finances are keeping would-be donors on the sidelines. As Bleyer and his team determined, even if they wanted to be, most Americans are not suitable as potential kidney donors.
By Dyanne Weiss