Can We Take Organ Transplants to a Post-Waiting-List Era?
Prevention & Treatment Whether it’s for someone we know or a total stranger, organ donors have a big impact. However, every passing second is vital to a patient, and the need for donors only increases.
October 6 will always be a memorable day for Cameron Norcross. It is the day in 2014 that his younger brother Tyson died suddenly and without warning.
It also the day that — exactly one year later in 2015 — Cameron saved a total stranger’s life through kidney donation. "I pulled my phone out and I looked at the date and I said, 'Cameron, do you know what date that is?’” recalls Cameron’s mother, Crystal Ullibari. “He said, 'Yeah, the second Tuesday in October.' I said, 'No, that's your little brother's heavenly birthday.'"
Deciding to donate
For Cameron the coincidence made perfect sense. His decision to be a living kidney donor was made to honor Tyson — who, in death, had donated organs to six people. Cameron felt his organ donation would be a perfect way to add to his brother’s legacy.
Now, more than a year later, he says he would give more if he could. “If they allowed me to, I'd donate a portion of my,” Cameron says. “Since my kidney donation doesn’t allow me to do that, instead I encourage others to become living donors as well.”
Kidney donation doesn’t only affect the life of the recipient. Many lives are impacted with each life-saving surgery. The recipient of Cameron’s kidney is Mary Alice Garza, a woman with autism, who relies on a network of family and friends to help with her care. When she received her transplant, all of their lives were impacted.
“After I donated my kidney I received around 30 letters from strangers related to the kidney recipient,” says Cameron. “Cousins, sisters, brothers, mothers — all telling me how grateful they are to have their loved one off of dialysis and feeling better almost overnight. It was a really emotional experience for me reading through all these letters.”
“If .0007 percent of the population volunteered to become living donors we could possibly eliminate the waiting list.”
While Cameron donated his kidney to a person he did not know, many who donate have a person in need in mind when they make their donation. This is known as a directed donation and in some cases can lead to more than one person receiving their life-saving transplant.
“When a directed donor doesn’t match their intended recipient, they can donate to another person in need,” explains Dr. Jeffery Campsen, Surgical Director of Kidney/Pancreas Transplant at University of Utah. “In some cases this can lead to a transplant chain with several mismatched donors providing life-saving organs to patients who otherwise would have ended up waiting longer for a perfect, directed match.”
Such organ donation chains ensure more people are able to get donations, which is important when more than 120,000 people are waiting for organs at any given time. Eighty-two percent of those waiting are in need of kidneys and could benefit from living donation. However, in 2015, fewer than 6,000 living kidney donations were made. “We have more than 125 million adults in the United States, and roughly 93,000 of them are waiting for kidney donations,” says Campsen. “That means if .0007 percent of the population volunteered to become living donors we could possibly eliminate the waiting list.”
Overcoming the fear
Cameron says he understands why people may be reluctant to donate a kidney. After all, it is major surgery and there are risks involved. “I can say that it honestly wasn't that bad,” he says. “My abdomen was sore for around a week, but after that I really wasn't in a lot of pain. I also recently had my one-year check up and my single kidney as functioning as if I had two kidneys running at 95 percent, so I'm doing really well.”
Organ donation saves lives. It honors lives. It changes lives. It saved the life of Mary Alice. It honored the life of Tyson Norcross. At the intersection of those two lives, it changed the life of Cameron Norcross. “I can say with confidence that I'm a good person,” he says, “and that means a lot to me.”