By: Norma Connolly | firstname.lastname@example.org
Just two days after World Kidney Day was observed in the Cayman Islands, lawmakers passed legislation legalising kidney and other organ donations and transplants.
The new law will, for the first time, allow the removal and implantation of organs and tissue from living or dead people to a patient in need of an organ or tissue.
All patients in Cayman waiting for a heart or kidney or liver transplant now have to travel off island to have a transplant, even if the donor is a family member living locally and if there is a surgeon willing and able to carry out the surgery.
The need for an organ transplant and donation law was highlighted recently when the public was invited to an open day at the dialysis unit at Cayman Islands Hospital as part of World Kidney Day.
Three times each week, 48 patients spend about four hours on dialysis machines. Another two patients get dialysis treatment in Cayman Brac.
“The main two causes [of kidney failure] are high blood pressure and diabetes … and when it’s not well managed,” said nurse Sue Thorpe, who works at the dialysis unit. “I would say 95 per cent of our patients have one or both of them.”
“We’re full every day,” she added.
Of the patients at the hospital, some are waiting to find out if there is a match for a new kidney among family members, while others are on a waiting list in the United States, which makes only 5 per cent of its organs available to non-US residents.
The youngest patient at the dialysis unit is 24 years old and the oldest is 88.
At its open day this year, medical staff at the dialysis unit gave visitors, including schoolchildren, a tour of the facility, explained to them about kidney failure and introduced them to dialysis patients who were able to answer their questions.
Dialysis is an expensive undertaking, with each treatment costing about $300, not including the medication patients need to take as well.
Another nurse at the unit, Ian Hurdle, said one of the upsides of educating the public more about kidney failure and dialysis will mean that people at risk of kidney failure will seek help earlier. “Many times we get people when they’re at the crisis stage, so education now is key,” he said.
One patient, musician George Jones, has been on dialysis for 11 months. He was diagnosed with hereditary hypertension, or high blood pressure, when he was in his early 20s and was told at the time he would likely need dialysis or a kidney transplant.
He changed his diet and exercised in an effort to put off dialysis. “It was prolonging the inevitable. I was able to prolong it for six or seven years, but within the last two or three years, the process sped up because I am also a colon cancer survivor,” he said. Following his cancer diagnosis in 2010, he underwent some aggressive treatment, which sped up the onset of his need for dialysis.
He has been using his time spent at the hospital each week, and his music contacts, to set up an event at the Batabano festival in May to raise money for a new dialysis machine at the hospital. Mr. Jones plans to bring fellow Bajan jazz and reggae saxophonist Arturo Tappin and his band to play in Grand Cayman during the festival.
“I thought, how can I use my connections to help give back and improve conditions for everybody,” Mr. Jones said. “I was lying here and came up with the idea of raising some funds for new state-of-the-art machines. Ideally, I’d like to outfit the whole unit, but that’s a big project, so for now, I’m looking at one at a time.”
Other patients spend their time on dialysis machines watching the small television screens over their beds or reading or resting.
Florence McLaughlin, 72, from East End, has been on dialysis for seven years. She has both diabetes and high blood pressure.
Ms McLaughlin has sight issues, so she cannot read or watch TV while she sits and lies in bed for hours every week. Asked what she does while she’s there, she said: “Nothing.”
Although her daughter had been willing to give her a kidney, she was not compatible, so no transplant was done. “It didn’t work out,” said Ms McLaughlin, who described being on dialysis for so long as “terrible”.
Mother-of-three Tammy Parsons has been going to Cayman Islands Hospital for dialysis for 10 years. She was diagnosed at age 32 and was considered “a picture of health” and had no previous history of high blood pressure or diabetes. It was caused by a skin infection she had as a child after which the infection built up in her body. “I was tested for bladder infections, but it wasn’t the bladder, it was the kidneys,” she said.
She is hoping to get a kidney transplant and finally come off dialysis. “My family is really pushing for the transplant because the longer you are on dialysis, the more the body deteriorates. I think I’ve held on really well and most people don’t look at me and think I’m a dialysis patient, but that does not mean that I don’t feel it myself,” Ms Parsons said. “We’re trying very hard to get all the paperwork and testing done to get a transplant, which I’ve been working on for about eight years now, but it’s one hurdle after another.”
She hopes that her brother will be compatible and that testing for his compatibility can be done soon. Another brother who had offered to give her a kidney was found to be incompatible.
However, she said a transplant for her may be a hard option. “The transplant itself isn’t difficult, it’s the body accepting the new organ. I’m at high risk for rejection,” she said.
Ms Parsons, who carried an organ donor card when she was a student in the US, said she was happy to hear that the organ donation and transplant law was coming before legislators last week.
“For the longest time here, you couldn’t be an organ donor. If you die, everything is gone,” Ms Parsons said. Organ transplant law gives hope to dialysis patients :: cayCompass.com.