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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Health: Kidney Donations and Transplants

Today's health story is about a kidney donation.

I can't use the real names of the people featured in this story, so I'll call them R1 and R2. They served together in Vietnam as young men forty years ago.

As young draftees, they were part of a tight-knit group that repeatedly risked life and limb in the course of duty.

Yes, we all have strong opinions about that "war" that was never declared a war, about the millions of Vietnamese peasants and farmers who lost their lives, their homes, their farms, their families, their limbs; and the 58,000 Americans who came back in body bags. But the young draftees were not to blame for any of this, even if a few of them went on to commit war crimes. By and large, they were serving in the military for a myriad of reasons and most of them conducted themselves decently.

They are now in their sixties. Silver-haired men who continue to stay in touch, forever connected by the ties that bind, watching friends and old comrades drop away due to the ravages of old age.

So R1, a man who suffered many grievous wounds in the course of service, suffered a recent insult to add to all his injuries: his kidneys started shutting down. For close to two years now, he's been on dialysis. If you have healthy functioning kidneys, you probably don't know what dialysis is. Thank your lucky stars. It's not for the faint of heart.

Essentially, because your kidneys can no longer filter harmful wastes and extra fluids out of your body, you have to go to a location (a clinic or hospital) where you get hooked up to a machine that slowly filters your blood for you. This is called hemodialysis. Because only a few ounces can be filtered at a time, the procedure takes up to five hours. And you have to do this three times a week.

In addition, you don't get to eat tasty stuff anymore. No bacon, no salt, no cheese, no ketchup, no crackers, no chips, limited quantities of potassium-containing fruit and vegetables, or items high in phosphates (like chocolate), or protein (meat, dairy products, whole grains, nuts).

Fun, huh?

In the event, R1, after suffering through this and waiting patiently for a kidney donor, was finally told he didn't have much time left if he couldn't get a kidney replaced. So he put out the word to his old buddies: can ya spare a kidney for a fellow trooper?

Unbelievably, to this old cynic, at any rate, replies came pouring in. Yes, they would spare a kidney if they could, said his brothers in arms. Dutifully, they submitted to the tests required to determine if any of them qualified — and if they didn't make a perfect match, they'd donate anyway, if they could, just to bump their old buddy up to the top of the list so he could have the next kidney that did match his needs.

There is a special deity for old soldiers, methinks, and s/he lent a hand. After much trading of insults (which, really, is just another way of saying, "Hey, man, I fucking care,") one of his brothers in arms was found to be both in good enough physical shape to spare a kidney and to be a match for R1. So R2 (the trooper with two good kidneys and a clean bill of health) signed up to give one of his to his fellow serviceman, R1.

Sometime in January, the swop takes place. R2 goes home with one less kidney, and R1 emerges with one working kidney, to a life of, hopefully, no more dialysis. Send some good thoughts their way, peeps. Just because it's so fucking heartwarming that somebody would give up a vital organ for someone else, in commemoration of bonds forged four decades ago.

The deity of old soldiers would like both these fine men to know the following information, published in Science News (175:5):
The Jan. 29, [2009] issue of NEJM (the New England Journal of Medicine) has reported that Hassan Ibrahim and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis have found that kidney donors have the same probability of survival over several decades as the general population, including adequate kidney function and — surprisingly — even less risk of severe kidney disease. The data was derived from studying kidney transplants performed at U.Minn between 1963 and 2007, including selecting 255 of the donors to undergo kidney function tests. The test results were then compared with similar tests on individuals with two functioning kidneys, and donors were matched for race, gender, body weight, and age.
So, R2, for your great generosity in donating one of your healthy functioning kidneys to R1, the deity of old soldiers wants you to know that you're giving away nothing but your love, man. Power to you both, continued health and long life.


And as for those who are all, like, supporting the troops? Consider donating an organ. Especially you rich young Republicans who don't ever plan to sign up for military service but support all wars with your mouths. Now you can show that you *really* support the troops. Sign those organ donor cards and carry them at all times. And if you have two healthy kidneys, go see if there's someone who could use one.

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At 11:04 PM, Blogger Friend of TPC said...

It seems almost too timely for this post about kidney disease as it just took down on December 6th one of my former coworkers, who I will call Ann, at the too young age of 56. While I have not seen her in at least a half dozen years, I always liked her and in the nearly 19 years of working at the same company, sometimes together on the same projects, she was always a pleasure to be around. Forever happy, forever cheerful, forever ready with smile and joyful laugh, I will always remember her fondly. What a terrible sadness.

At 6:58 AM, Blogger Dave said...

Over half of the 105,000 Americans on the national transplant waiting list will die before they get a transplant. Most of these deaths are needless. Americans bury or cremate about 20,000 transplantable organs every year. Over 9,000 of our neighbors suffer and die needlessly every year as a result.

There is a simple way to put a big dent in the organ shortage -- give organs first to people who have agreed to donate their own organs when they die.

Giving organs first to organ donors will convince more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system fairer. People who aren't willing to share the gift of life should go to the back of the waiting list as long as there is a shortage of organs.

Anyone who wants to donate their organs to others who have agreed to donate theirs can join LifeSharers. LifeSharers is a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition.

At 10:51 AM, Blogger ThePoliticalCat said...

Hey, beautiful, my condolences about Ann. It's tough to lose them young. I was so touched by the way the troopers rallied around one of their own, even though four decades had gone by since that young man enlisted. Now the old man he has become will have a decade or more to see his grandchildren grow up and mature. Bless those troopers' stalwart hearts.

At 10:52 AM, Blogger ThePoliticalCat said...

Dave, thank you so much for your so-informative comment. I'll post it ASAP. Thanks for visiting, too. A very happy new year to you, and many more.

At 5:36 PM, Blogger Friend of TPC said...

Thanks TPC. And definitely, 56 is way too young. But it is great to read the way the troopers rallied. And along the same lines, I have indicated on my drivers license for a dozen years now that I am happy to donate my organs on death. And I will keep doing that too!

At 11:54 PM, Blogger ThePoliticalCat said...

Apparently, kidney disease is an invisible killer. No symptoms until it's ready to take you out. I must blog on that some more. You're wonderful, but you knew that, GF. Now if we could only get some of these rich, privileged assholes to give a kidney or two to them as might need one ...


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