As mentioned in an Apr 2010 blog post, Loyola Univ. Medical Center recently had four altruistic kidney donors come through its doors. Rather than keeping them in-house and transplant each donor’s kidney to one of its own patients, Loyola doctors decided to enroll all four donors with a kidney exchange that matches pairs of incompatible donors and recipients, to increase the number of matches and thus help the maximum possible number of patients get kidneys. (For an explanation of how kidney exchanges work, see Mar  2010 blog post.) Afterwards, Loyola UMC announced the formation of a pay-it-forward kidney transplant program to encourage more people to donate through kidney exchanges.

Yesterday, Loyola UMC announced that since starting the program in March, twenty-one additional altruistic donors have stepped forward. Says Loyola kidney transplant surgeon Dr. John Milner,

“We’ve had 50 phone calls from people of all ages and backgrounds who heard about the program and who expressed desires to donate kidneys. Those donors should be commended for helping us to unlock the potential of chains to get more people transplanted who might otherwise never have a chance for a new life.

“That’s one of the advantages of the Pay-it-Forward concept. You can ship a kidney and not a donor. That’s the first time that has ever happened in the Midwest. Donors have the luxury of being in familiar surroundings with their friends and family while they recover. There are already so many disincentives to donation, why add another by making the donor, as well as family members, travel?”

I hope Loyola is able to sustain a rate of a few donors per month after this initial publicity dies down. And if every transplant hospital in the country adopted this program and encouraged more people to become altruistic donors, it could help eliminate the 85,000 person-long waiting list for kidneys. Really! If you are interested in becoming an altruistic donor in an exchange (like me), contact your local transplant center and ask if they participate in one of the regional or national kidney exchanges. The two largest national exchanges are the National Kidney Registry and the Alliance for Paired Donations. Both websites include a list of participating hospitals.

[Update: A Nov 2010 blog post covers a meeting between one of the pay-it-forward donors and her recipient.]