Every year, thousands of people in the United States are placed on a national waiting list with hopes of receiving an organ transplant. Approximately one person is added every 10 minutes. Despite this growing need for organs, there remains a shortage of registered donors.
April is Donate Life Month, and to celebrate, the Massachusetts General Hospital Transplant Center held a Facebook Live event hosted by transplant and hepatobiliary surgeon, Leigh Anne Dageforde, MD, MPH, and moderated by surgical resident and former kidney living donor Charles Rickert, MD. The event featured a Q&A session about the effect of organ donation, what it means to be a living donor and how interested individuals can register to be a donor.
There was also a special surprise guest: Paul Russell, MD, a pioneer in the field of transplant surgery and former Director of the Transplant Center from 1968-1990. Dr. Russell described the changes in transplantation during his tenure and the incredible work doctors are doing to continue strengthening it.
Dr. Dageforde and Dr. Rickert were not able to answer every question from the audience during the live event. Below are some additional resources for anyone considering to register as a live donor.
Q: What support does Mass General offer to help make the decision to be a living donor?
A: Mass General offers many resources—including former living donors willing to share their experiences with prospective donors and social workers who act as independent donor advocates. When meeting with a social worker, the interested individual can discuss any potential concerns or questions they may have about the process. Mass General also hosts donor education sessions, both online and in person. Lastly, donors have the opportunity to meet with kidney specialty doctors (nephrologists) and transplant surgeons to discuss the donation process. The best way to get in touch with our program is to fill out an interest form.
Q: How does the matching process work?
A: The patient and donor are tested carefully to make sure the blood types agree and that the recipient does not have any particular sensitivity (antibodies) to the donor that may lead to rejection of the organ. If the donor and recipient blood is compatible, then they are considered a match. If there is a difference in blood type between the two, we recommend that the pair go into a kidney exchange program, such as the National Kidney Registry, in which potential donors and recipients are put into a pool and carefully selected for organ swaps. Sometimes, even long chains of donor/transplant exchanges can occur. These registries offer the best opportunity for the most people to be positively impacted by the gift of living kidney donation by finding a match for kidney recipients.
Q: For how many days is a patient admitted post-transplantation of various organs?
A: Post-transplant hospital stay can vary, primarily dependent on the organ the patient received and how sick they were before their transplant surgery. On average, a kidney transplant recipient is in the hospital about three days post-operation. Liver transplant recipients are in the hospital about five-seven days post-operation. Again, this varies quite a bit depending on the patient and their health condition before transplant. Just like training for an athletic event, preparing for surgery by eating healthy foods, walking and exercising every day and refraining from smoking leads to a quicker recovery for both donors and transplant recipients.
Q: Are there any new medical advancements in organ transplantation?
A: There are many new advances in organ transplantation, the majority of which are in clinical trials and various stages of preclinical development. The Mass General transplant research team conducts leading work in many areas of transplantation as well as researches the use of alternative organ preservation methods, including machines that pump oxygenated blood through organs rather than having the organs wait for transplant in ice. These machines have the potential to better preserve organs prior to transplant, as well as improve and rehabilitate organs, such as fatty livers, for future transplantation. As a field, organ transplantation has many exciting opportunities for research and advancement.
For more information, please visit the Mass General Transplant Center website.