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The Perspective
The Perspective

November 27, 2018

Living kidney donation: A selfless act of giving the gift of life

Dr. Chia Wei Teoh and Moira Korus, RN, are part of the Kidney Transplant Team at SickKids.

In 2019, SickKids celebrates 50 years of performing kidney transplants in children. Through the years, nephrologists and surgeons have performed close to 1,000 kidney transplants in children aged two to 18 years – 957 and counting to be precise. None of these would have been possible without the generosity of organ donors. While most of these transplants were from deceased donors, close to half of them came from living donors – a parent, an aunt or uncle, an adult sibling, a friend or an altruistic stranger – a gift that greatly improves the quality of life for a child and their family.

Children with end-stage kidney disease rely on dialysis to help them remove waste products, and excess salt and water from their body. This requires being hooked up to a dialysis machine either at the hospital for up to three to four hours per day, between three to six days a week (haemodialysis), or at home for 10 to 12 hours every night (peritoneal dialysis). Children living with end-stage kidney disease have poor energy levels and appetite, are required to adhere to strict fluid and dietary restrictions, and lead a life cluttered with medical appointments – all of which significantly impacts on their ability to grow and develop. Their families fight daily battles to juggle between the many tasks and chores that go into caring for them. Definitely not the life you wish upon any child!

Although not a cure, successful kidney transplants significantly improves the lives of children with kidney disease. They have improved energy levels and appetites and have fewer fluid and dietary restrictions, facilitating a more normal growth and development, which gives them more ability to achieve many of their dreams and milestones.

There are currently 3,000 Canadians on the kidney transplant waiting list, many of whom are children. Although children under 18 years are prioritized, many still have to wait months (or even years) to receive a suitable transplant – something we can all work towards improving! Most living kidney donors are from family members, relatives or close friends. About 20 years ago, our program was approached by a donor who decided to donate to a child in his community who needed a kidney transplant, although he did not know the child or family personally. This donor was one of the first of many altruistic donors who have stepped forward to donate one of their kidneys to improve the lives of patients with end-stage kidney disease – a selfless gift of life that is truly appreciated by the recipient! And yes – adult kidneys fit into children even as young as two years old!

With a few exceptions, many of us are born with two healthy kidneys. Living donors undergo rigorous medical assessments prior to being allowed to donate one of their kidneys to ensure that they continue to lead a healthy life after donation. Living kidney donors help to greatly improve the lives of people they know or strangers in need of a kidney transplant. Albert Einstein once said that “it is every man’s obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it.” What better way to give than to give the gift of life!

Would you consider being a living kidney donor? Learn more about living kidney donation.

“Kidney transplantation is life-saving and life-altering. Until we can clone or grow or print kidneys (who knows what the future holds), there will continue to be a need for kidney transplants. Transplantation through living donation has the potential to remove many people from dialysis and the transplant waitlists and alter the lives of not just the patients, but their families as well.”
– Kathy Yetzer, Associate Director, Living Donation, Canadian Blood Services.