The Low-Down on Kidney Donation

One of 24 billboards spreading the word of Aretha Swift’s urgent need. RONNIE POLANECZKY / DAILY NEWS STAFF

  There wasn’t room in today’s column about kidney patient Aretha Swift to list all of the outdoor advertising companies that donated 24 billboards to her cause – a total worth of $260,000.

For that kind of generosity, I think a shout-out is deserved. So here’s to  Adams Outdoor, Besko Media, Catalyst Outdoor Advertising, CBS Outdoor, Interstate Outdoor Advertising, Jersey Outdoor Media, Keystone Outdoor Advertising, Land Displays, OOS Investments and Tri Outdoor.

“I’ve been in the outdoor business for 20 years, and I’ve never been involved in a group effort like this. It’s really touching,” says Jerry Besko of Besko Media. “Health is number one in everyone’s life; without it, everything else means nothing.”

Meantime, Thaddeus Bartkowski of Catalyst Outdoor, who got Swift’s campaign going, reports that today’s column has generated serious interest from two potential donors who want to be  tested for their suitability as kidney donors to Swift.

Obviously, testing will determine whether initial interest progresses to an actual transplant. It’s  a long, invovled process, explains Matthew Levine, MD, associate professor of transplant surgery at Penn’s medical school. If a donated kidney becomes available, Swift would receive the transplant at HUP, where about 70 about living-donor kidney transplants are performed every year.

Levine broke it down for me.

Potential donors are evaluated by a general physician, surgeon and nephrologist to make sure they have no underlying conditions that would either be exacerbated by surgery or lead to their own future kidney disease. A social worker also evaluates candidates to ensure they are mentally soun and donating out of choice, without the expectation of payment (it’s illegal to sell an organ).

“Our focus is to be sure donation is a safe thing to do, that the risks are understood and that the risk is not untoward for the organ recipient,” says Levine.

Some donors might fear that by donating a kidney they’ll be in peril if they themselves develop kidney disease later in life and need the organ they gave away. But Levine says that the risk of kidney disease is actually lower among kidney donors than it is among the general population, because donors have been so thoroughly evaluated for potential disease. Odds are, if they’re cleared for donation it’s because testing has revealed them to be at low-risk for kidney disease in the first place.

Poor donor candidates are those with severe hypertension, diabetes, heart or vascular disease and certain kinds of tumors.

Once a candidate is cleared, surgery takes three to four hours and requires a two- to three-day hospitalization and donors may return to work within two to six weeks, depending on individual recovery.  Expenses are typically covered by the organ recipient’s insurance company, though some non-medical costs are picked up by a national fund that pays for medical evaluation via Medicare.

“The donor’s safety is paramount, and it should be,” says Levine. “We’re operating on a healthy person who normally wouldn’t be undergoing surgery.”

Nationally, death occurs in one out of about every 3,500 living donors, but Levine says none have occurred at HUP.

For more information about Aretha Swift, go to www.AKidneyFor or call  866-787-7809.