A doctor at Northwestern Medicine in Illinois who specializes in treating kidney patients donated one of her own kidneys to a stranger.
Dr. Aleksandra Gmurczyk said in a press release that she often treats patients who distrust the medical system.
“I wanted to help someone,” Gmurczyk said. “I know people can live healthy lives with one kidney, and I know the high need for living donor organs. I hoped by donating my kidney, I’d help someone, and I also wanted to inspire others to donate.”
According to federal data,88,000 Americans were on a kidney transplant waitlist as of January 2023. In 2022, a total of 25,499 kidney transplants were performed. About 6,000 of those came from living donors.
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Art Reyes was among those waiting for a transplant.
“It was very depressing, and you kind of lose hope,” Reyes said in a statement. “You hear all the statistics, and that it can take up to eight or 10 years to get a deceased donor. After we found out my family members weren’t a good match for me, I was thinking I should just enjoy the time I had left.”
Just two weeks later, he got the kidney transplant he desperately needed.
“I was counting the days until surgery,” he said. “I knew the donor could back out at any time, and then the dream would be over.”
Gmurczyk said it would have been difficult to choose one of her patients, so she entered the donor pool.
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“I see how hard life can be for patients on dialysis,” Gmurczyk said. “It’s like a part-time job with appointments that are three times a week and four hours per session. They can’t travel, go overseas, and it can be tough for them to work. It’s heartbreaking.”
Transplants from living donors are more likely to be successful as the recipient generally lives twice as long as when they receive a kidney from a deceased donor, Donate Life says.
For living donors, they can expect their remaining kidney to increase in size to do the work of two healthy kidneys, according to the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. OSU added that the life expectancy for kidney donors is about the same as the rest of the population.
“It was exactly what I’d hoped for, and my recovery was exactly what we tell donors to expect,” Gmurczyk said. “I even walked home after my surgery. I returned to work two weeks after I donated and was just a little tired each night after work. I’m so glad I made the decision to donate, and I encourage others to explore the process. It’s much easier than you think.”