Charities and medical professionals are urging organ donors to speak to their families about the choice to donate to prevent relatives overriding their decision.
In Wales alone, figures show 21 families denied consent for organs to be given or did not support deemed consent in 2016/17 even though adults in Wales are regarded as agreeing to donate unless they opt out.
The Welsh Government said this could have resulted in 65 extra transplants, with three organs retrieved per donor on average last year.
Hospitals, charities and supporters of organ donation are highlighting that words save lives and the more people talking about organ donation with their families the better. It’s important because many people don’t realise that family support is needed for organ donations to go ahead.
When it comes to kidney donation, aside from people who have opted to be donors on their death, there are many myths about how safe it is to donate a kidney and remain alive and healthy. To help dispel these myths, the Paul Popham Renal Fund Wales, would like to share information* on kidney donation and how safe it is to donate a kidney to a loved one.
One of the most frequently asked questions is, “How safe is it to live with one kidney?” Though the need for kidney donors is high, donation is not acceptable if the donor is put at excessive risk of harm. So, every effort is made to minimise the chance of problems.
Donation is not risk-free. Your medical team will discuss the main risks with you as you go through the process and you will need to consider these carefully when deciding whether you wish to be a donor.
There are two main aspects to the question of how safe donation is for the donor: the operation itself and living with one kidney.
Donating a kidney requires a major operation under general anaesthetic. No operation is risk-free, so it is important to make sure that you are fit and well beforehand so that the risks to you are as low as possible. There are a number of other risks linked with the operation itself, such as infection, bleeding and pain. As with any surgery, there can be other less common and unexpected complications.
One of the benefits of being a kidney donor is that you go into the operation in good health, and the transplant team will know a great deal about you from the assessment that you have been through. This helps them to anticipate any problems, discuss them with you and to deal with them better should they happen.
Every transplant centre in the UK performs transplantation of kidneys from living donors, and one in every three kidney transplants is from a living donor. Around 1000 such operations are performed in the UK each year. This means that the donor operation is much more common than it used to be and surgeons are very experienced in removing kidneys safely. (Source: Give a Kidney One’s Enough)
Living with one kidney
It is generally considered very safe to live with one kidney and your clinical teams will outline the main risks to you, which include the most common and the most severe risks, as well as the main risks for your own specific circumstances.
For more details on the latest professional guidelines visit the British Transplantation Society website.
Some studies have indicated that there is a slightly higher chance of a small increase in your blood pressure or the amount of protein in your urine as a result of having one kidney. However, these are checked at annual follow-up and, if found, can be treated.
The overall risk of developing significant disease in your remaining kidney after donation is low, occurring in fewer than one in 200 (0.5%) donors, and it is much less in kidney donors than it is in the general (unscreened) population (because kidney donors are, of course, pre-screened to ensure they are healthy). Compared to the general public, most kidney donors have equivalent (or better) survival, excellent quality of life, and no increase in end-stage renal disease (ESRD – kidney disease).
*Please note, this information does not cover detailed medical questions; it is designed to give you general information about donating a kidney based on the advice of medical professionals and currently accepted guidance in the UK, from the research that is available to them. Your healthcare team will discuss risk with you in more detail and on an individual basis, particularly if there are certain concerns about you or your recipient because of your lifestyle, medical history or demographic, as risk must be considered on an individual basis based upon your individual circumstances.