PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — A unique program at OSF Healthcare is shortening transplant wait times with the generosity of living donors.
Nationally, there are 90,000 Americans on the transplant list, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a non-profit organization that manages the U.S. organ transplantation system.
The paired kidney exchange program is run by coordinator Brenda Derry. She said there are approximately 3,300 Illinoisans who need a new kidney. Since its inception in 1985, OSF has done 17 paired exchange transplants, and 63 people nationwide have been transplanted. There are 300 people on OSF’s transplant list.
“They are programs for recipients who have a good living donor, but just doesn’t match them for one reason or another… They get enrolled as a pair, they get matched as a pair, the donor donates, and the recipient gets transplanted as a pair,” Derry said.
When Colleen Slane of Peoria learned about the program, it was her calling to help others.
“I thought, if I can help somebody and change their life, it will change my life,” she said.
She is an altruistic donor, donating her kidney last August to help a complete stranger in Penn. She said the process was easy and she had a great experience.
“We’re put on this earth to do a good deed and this was mine… I feel like I never had surgery, I feel great,” Slane said.
Derry said donors have to come forward of their own free will. OSF covers all the donor’s expenses, including donor testing, surgery, and follow-ups at six, 12, and 24 months. They are matched by blood type to a recipient.
“They can’t be paid, you can’t buy a kidney off of Craigslist, you can’t give someone a new car or a trip to Disneyland in exchange for their kidney,” she said.
Derry said the average waiting time to receive a kidney is five to eight years.
“20 people on that waiting list die every day,” she said.
Derry said two-thirds of kidney transplants come from deceased donors, but through this program, “you can get a kidney in a shorter period of time and a living donor is a better outcome for patients.”
Debra Riley of Bloomington received hers in March 2021, just six months after getting diagnosed with end-stage renal failure.
“When I got the phone call it was just unbelievable to think that, here I was prepared to be waiting three to five years and to have it be at just six months, it was just numbing to begin, I couldn’t even express what a relief it was for me,” she said.
Riley said it is all thanks to the selfless kindness of donors, like Slane.
“I’ve been given this new lease on life from someone’s generosity,” Riley said.
Slane said if she could, she would do it again.
“I don’t think enough people know about… you can donate, and people should investigate it. All that work that went into it, was so worth it,” she said.
Derry said about 80% of patients won’t talk about living donation, “that’s how awkward of a conversation it is.” She said OSF participates in three paired kidney exchange programs: National Kidney Registry, Alliance for Paired Donations, and Organ Procurement Transplant Network, a subdivision of UNOS.
April is National Give Life Month. Learn more about organ donation through Donate Life America, an non-profit that encourages organ donation.