Health Tips Tuesday: kidney transplant waiting list concerns

Wait lists continue to grow for those who are in need of a kidney transplant, but only a small percentage are receiving such transplants every year.
Published: Feb. 22, 2022 at 1:31 PM EST
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(WGGB/WSHM) -- Wait lists continue to grow for those who are in need of a kidney transplant, but only a small percentage are receiving such transplants every year, so what does this mean for all of those people on the wait list? Dr. Kenneth McPartland, surgical director of kidney transplantation at Baystate Health, spoke with us about the continued problem.

The first question is about kidney transplants and the people on waiting lists in the country continues to grow with more than 90,000 people on that list, yet only 20,000 kidney transplants were performed. Why do you think that is?

McPartland: “Well, clearly there are more patients in need of a kidney transplant than there are kidneys available to transplant to those patients. There’s definitely a huge need for kidneys that we are currently not meeting.”

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing patients who are on those waiting lists for kidneys?

McPartland: “The biggest challenge is those patients need to remain healthy enough and strong enough to undergo a transplant operation when they actually get an offer for a kidney and that often takes over five years and sometimes upwards of eight years on a waiting list, so these patients have kidney failure and other medical problems and to remain healthy enough to undergo a transplant in five or eight years is very difficult. Unfortunately, most of these people don’t have the option of undergoing a living donor transplant, which can be done right away and avoid all that time on dialysis and all the medical risks that go along with that.”

What are some of the things people can do help improve their kidney functions at home without medical treatment necessarily?

McPartland: “A healthy diet, a healthy lifestyle with exercise and avoiding excessive weight gain, as well as getting good control of your blood pressure and really seeing your primary care doctor on a regular basis and not neglecting that because the most common reasons for kidney failure is really high blood pressure and diabetes and if you control those problems, you can keep your kidneys healthier essentially and we can decrease the number of people that actually end up needing a transplant, so that helps fix the problem from one end.”

What would you say to someone who is in need of a kidney transplant? What would your advice be to them as they are waiting for a donor?

McPartland: “My advice would be stay optimistic, try to stay as healthy as possible, and really talk to your friends and family option of kidney donation. It’s very hard to ask someone to donate you a kidney, but really, that is a lifesaving measure for that patient because many patients are not going to be healthy enough to undergo a transplant operation when their time comes five or eight years down the line on the waiting list, but if someone could donate to them today, not only does it improve their quality of life, you know these patients will be better, have more energy, they won’t have to go to dialysis, but it also improves their length of life. They’re going to live longer with less medical problems after a kidney transplant compared to staying on dialysis, so I think stay healthy, talk to your friends and family about donation, and stay optimistic.”

If you are a donor, is that detrimental to your health, and if so, how much if at all?

McPartland: “We know that healthy individuals can donate a kidney and live normal healthy lives. There’s a risk but it’s very small. Most kidney donors that are living donors do very well after donation and live normal healthy lives and have a very small risk of medical problems related to their kidney. The transplant community is building in more and more safeguards for organ donors, so if somebody donates a kidney and they for some reason end up having kidney problems in the future, even if it’s not related to the fact that they donated, if they were to ever need a kidney transplant, they would be placed right at the top of the waitlist.”