Be warned that this post, purely for the purpose of analyzing behavior change, involves a frank discussion of live kidney donations, kidney transplants and farting.
Before we get there, consider this story by Kevin Sack in The New York Times. Hard to miss: front page, above the fold, with photos of 59 people linked by a “kidney chain.” Kidney chains use a pay-it-forward approach to address a national need for kidney donations. The nonprofit organization that manages waiting lists reports that about 90,000 patients in the U.S. need kidney transplants, but only 17,000 get one each year, and 4,500 people die waiting.
The article describes “Chain 124,” which involved 30 living donors and transplant recipients, most of whom didn’t know each other. It started with Rick Ruzzamenti of Riverside, California, a good Samaritan so motivated by the concept of kidney donation that he gave up one of his healthy kidneys to whomever could benefit from it. The recipient of Rick’s kidney, a man in New Jersey, had a niece who wanted to be his donor but didn’t match. So she agreed to donate to a patient in Wisconsin, whose former boyfriend agreed to donate to someone else, and so on until 30 patients with kidney disease became healthy again because of the kidney chain.
When I saw this story, I had two reactions. One, which I said to my wife, was, “Wow! What an incredibly generous person that Rick Ruzzamenti is, donating a kidney to anyone who might need it without being asked.” The other, which I kept to myself, was “Yikes! Is that guy nuts?”
Making kidney donations seem normal.
The article ran as I was in the process of becoming a kidney donor myself—just had the operation days ago, in fact. I’m happy to say that I’m doing well; happier that my donated kidney appears to be doing its job for my aunt, who had been on full renal dialysis. Those familiar with kidney disease know that dialysis is a way to stay alive for awhile, but it’s no way to live.
When we began telling people about my plan to donate, the reaction was amazingly uniform. Our friends would say to me, “Wow—what an incredibly generous person you are!” Later, they would whisper to my wife, “Sally—is your husband nuts?”
She’s likely to agree, but becoming a living kidney donor is not what proves it—at least, not in my mind. A few years back I served on the board of the National Kidney Foundation in Upstate New York. Before then, I didn’t know that living kidney donation was possible. Through my stint on the board I met more kidney donors and recipients who explained the basics.
- The success rate for this operation is high. More than 93 percent of transplanted kidneys nationwide are functioning after the first year, and most recipients can expect 10 to 15 years or more of healthy function.
- Donors no longer have to be a perfect genetic match, because today’s anti-rejection drugs are so good. You only need a compatible blood type and antibodies that play well together.
- Having two kidneys is superfluous. One can do the job just fine, and they tend to fail in tandem, so having a spare is seldom a lifesaver.
- In fact, kidney donors have a longer life expectancy than the general population. That’s because you have to be healthy enough to donate.
Based on many conversations about my kidney donation, few people are aware of these facts. They know only that kidney donation is a major surgical procedure—potentially lifesaving for the recipient, with (they assume) plenty of risk and discomfort for the donor.
Still, every parent I know says immediately that they would donate to save one of their children. A lot of people mention spouses and siblings. Though I’ve never formalized my “kidney circle” as a list of names, familiarity made the donations something I could easily consider for a wider group of family and friends.
So when my aunt learned that she needed a transplant, I was quick to raise my hand as a volunteer. When kidney donation seems “normal” and less scary, we can all make an informed decision of who belongs in our kidney circle.
Bringing out the kid in me.
What I didn’t know is that “Kidneyland” is a surprisingly fun place, especially for those of us with sophomoric senses of humor. I’m a patient now at Oregon Health & Science University,and did much of my pre-testing at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
In both places, I’ve found that the phlebotomists and nephrologists and surgeons and nurses who deal with kidney transplants tend to be a good-humored lot. They have a lot of positive outcomes to smile about, helping people execute simple bodily functions that the rest of us seldom talk about.
I’ve been contemplating how to demystify the process for other potential donors, and I think we should talk about it. “The gift of life” is too high-sounding and vague. Let’s get real with slogans that get to the heart—or, should I say—the kidney of the matter.
How about, “Kidney donation: Urine it to win it!” Or a campaign that links donors and recipients: “Free to pee, you and me.” And since we know that sex sells, picture a Victoria’s Secret model purring at you from the pages of a glossy magazine: “Get next to me, after your nephrectomy.”
Not sold yet? That brings us to the title of this post. In addition to urination, it turns out that transplant teams are also obsessed with flatulence. There’s a medical reason: Most nephrectomies, including mine, are performed laparoscopically, with the midsection pumped full of carbon dioxide as part of the procedure. Expelling the gas after surgery is key to a quick recovery—the more and faster you can do it, the better.
For men of a certain age, this concept is better than a trip to Disney World. I spend a fair amount of time resisting the urge to emit, or being chided by my wife for failing to resist. Here in Kidneyland, a team of friendly professionals is monitoring, coaching and celebrating every snap, crackle and pop.
My hope is that this new-found freedom doesn’t have to end. Perhaps the art department can come up with a wearable patch for kidney donors. It won’t say, “Be nice to me, I donated today,” but something far more beneficial: “Excuse my farting. It’s medically required.” Better than a handicapped parking sticker, and available only to kidney donors!
Okay, maybe these ideas won’t seem so hot when I leave Kidneyland and return to the office, sans pain medication. The need for kidney donations is something that warrants serious discussion. Would you be willing to donate—and if so, who’s in your kidney circle? What should true believers be doing to demystify the process of donating a kidney? We’d love to hear from you.
- Kidney Donation Controversy: Long Island Dealership Denies Firing Worker After She Gave Boss a Kidney(inquisitr.com)
- The Power Of Kidney Transplant Chains When People “Pay It Forward”(medicalnewstoday.com)
- “Transplant Chain” of Kidney Donors, Recipients Meet for the First Time (kstp.com)
- A Rapid City mother donates kidney to son (taishalwalker.com)