If you’re waiting for a kidney transplant, you already know about the daunting stats: 100,000 patients on the wait list and a three- to five-year wait, on average, for a kidney from a deceased donor.
But each year, hundreds of transplant patients get off the wait list in a fraction of the time. They find compatible living donors — in people they never met — through the National Kidney Registry (NKR).
“We recommend the NKR to almost any patient needing a kidney transplant,” says Stuart Flechner, MD, of Cleveland Clinic’s Kidney Transplant Program. “If they have an otherwise willing donor but are not a match, the NKR may be able to help.”
Since 2011, Cleveland Clinic has done 34 kidney transplants (and counting). This wouldn’t have happened without the NKR.
Making a good trade
Here’s how it works:
A patient who needs a kidney transplant finds anyone willing to donate a kidney — even if they’re not a match due to incompatible blood type or antibodies.
Both patient and donor get evaluated by a transplant center that is an NKR member. If approved by the center, they are entered into the NKR’s computerized database.
The NKR orchestrates a kidney swap. The willing donor’s kidney goes to a compatible patient. The original patient receives a compatible kidney from another donor. Exchanges are made among patients all over the United States.
Participants most often trade kidneys in pairs. However, occasionally, a volunteer donor will set off a chain of transplants. Each recipient must have a partner donor who “pays it forward” by contributing a kidney to the chain.
In 2015, 35 people received kidneys from 35 donors in the U.S.’s longest kidney transplant chain to date.
“Kidney exchange is a win for everyone,” says Dr. Flechner. “The better the match, the more likely the success of the transplant. And kidneys from living donors tend to provide better outcomes than those from deceased donors.”
More living donor transplants will free deceased donor kidneys for others, making the wait list move faster.
“Finding the right kidney for you is a community effort,” says Dr. Flechner. “The NKR brings that community together. Any altruistic kidney donor should consider starting a chain through the NKR to help as many patients as possible.”