National Donate Life Month: My Decision to Donate

Northwestern Medicine
Organ Donation and Transplantation April 17, 2013
Doug Penrod, RNThe following entry is written by Doug Penrod, RN, outreach coordinator for Northwestern Medicine's Kovler Organ Transplantation Center.

April is National Donate Life Month* and coincidently, marks the fifth anniversary of my own kidney donation.

There are currently approximately 117,000 individuals on the national transplant waiting list. Within that number, close to 95,000 are waiting for a kidney.

Unfortunately, 20 people die per day on the national waiting list. The 16,485 kidney transplants performed in 2012 is the lowest amount since 2005, yet we continue to add thousands to the kidney waiting list each year. Waiting times in Illinois are four to six years or longer for a deceased donor kidney transplant. In some areas of the U.S., it is now nearly a ten year wait. These statistics are alarming and everyone should know about their opportunity to be a potential donor.

In early September, 2007, I was three weeks away from donating a kidney to the father of my best friend.  He had been my patient in early 2000, received a living donor transplant from his eldest child, but unfortunately developed a new disease in the kidney seven years later, leading to its failure. We had both come in to the transplant center for our last meeting with the doctors and nurses and a quick once over by a physician’s assistant (PA).  During his physical, something new was discovered on my intended recipient and a quick CT scan the next day put a stop to our transplant hopes – forever. Upon learning this, I went to my transplant nephrologist, Dr.  John Friedewald, and asked him to find me another recipient.  I had come this far and I was not going to be denied the opportunity to improve someone’s life, whether I knew them or not. 

Not quite seven months later, on April 3, 2008, I took part in a four-way kidney paired donation involving eight people. The surgery was a breeze, compared to an emergency appendectomy I underwent 20 years prior. I was out of bed walking the hospital hallways within an hour of my return from post-op recovery. I was taking fluids that evening and went home the next day in the late afternoon, after everyone involved agreed to meet each other.  It was and always will be one of my most cherished moments meeting and being with everyone. 

A week later, I was back in to the transplant center for my first follow-up visit and a week after that I was back again to start back to work as a transplant nurse coordinator.  People often ask me if I think about my recipient a lot or talk with them, and the answer is no.  My recipient is no longer living here and after three months, it was like the donation never really happened.  Life goes on for both me and my recipient.  The important thing is that I did something that most any of us could do, I became a donor.  And upon my death, I will be a donor again, as I am part of the Illinois transplant registry.

We can all make a difference in life and in death. Since January 1, 2006, Illinois has been a First Person Consent state, so your wishes to be an organ donor cannot be denied.  The Illinois Secretary of State’s* office and the Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network* continue their work to increase organ donation and awareness, with over 5 million people in the state having now signed up to be in the donor registry. Learn how to be a potential donor and discuss your feelings regarding organ donation with your family, so they are aware of your wishes.    To learn more  visit: www.lifegoeson.com*).

Learn more about Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s  Kovler Organ Transplantation Center.

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