A woman who donated one of her healthy kidneys to a complete stranger says the fact that such donations have TRIPLED in the past two years shows how generous the British public is.
Mother-of-one Diane Franks, 63, has welcomed the latest figures from the UK Human Tissue Authority which show that approvals for ‘non-directed altruistic donations’ of kidneys have increased from 39 cases in 2011/12 to 124 in 2013/14.
Ms Franks, of Swindon, said: “I think it’s brilliant that the numbers are increasing at such a rapid rate. Word is spreading about the fact that you can donate to a stranger.
“It goes to show what a generous nature humans really have.”
When someone commits to donating a healthy kidney to a stranger, they are not permitted to know anything about the person who receives their organ.
Ms Franks said: “I was allowed to know very general details – I was given a thank you note which revealed that the person I donated to was a married man, about my age, whose life was transformed by not having to be on dialysis.
“I spent a long time researching and preparing myself psychologically before donating.
“I needed to be mentally prepared enough to know that if, by some twist of fate, I found out that the person I donated to was a serial killer, a paedophile or a mass murderer – someone which everyone in society would step over in the street – I would be able to accept it and not have a wobbly.”
Human Tissue Authority spokeswoman Jenna Khalfan said: “We have no concrete evidence which explains the rise in numbers. However, anecdotally, as public awareness of living organ donation increases, especially with the rise of social media and it being featured more on TV and radio, the number of people willing to donate seems to keep rising.
“Also, although it is not without risk, kidney donation is considered a relatively safe operation and people can live perfectly healthily with one kidney.”
When Ms Franks, a former driving instructor and PA, donated at Churchill Hospital in Oxford in early 2010 she was one of the first people to give away her kidney to a complete stranger. It was illegal for patients to donate organs to strangers while they were still alive until a change in the law in 2007.
Ms Franks’s journey to altruistic donation began in early 2006 when she heard from an American friend about someone in that country who had given away their kidney.
She said: “I thought the act was a miracle. I knew as soon as I heard about it that it was something I wanted to do.
“I had been suffering with some thyroid problems for some time, and I had experienced what it was like to need help but not be able to get it. When I learned about how many people in the UK needed a kidney donation, I was able to feel empathy for them.
“I am a Christian and my faith continually helps my decision making. I have always tried to help other people in my life. Before my thyroid problem brought my energy crashing down, I assisted neighbours with their shopping. I sponsor three children in third-world countries.
“This was something which I was ready to commit to. Given the choice of running the London Marathon or donating a kidney, I’d rather donate a kidney. All I had to do was turn up at the hospital and let other people do the work.”
Ms Franks, who has a 33-year-old son named Matthew, conducted several months of exhaustive independent research even before she underwent a range of comprehensive physical and psychological tests.
She said: “The question of whether I – or Matthew – would need my other kidney in the future kept turning over in my mind.
“There is no history of kidney disease or diabetes in my family, so we were unlikely to need a transplant. If one of my kidneys was destroyed in, say, a traumatic car accident, I would probably have much bigger problems to consider. If I got kidney disease, the only difference would be that I would need to go on dialysis four months earlier than usual.
“You’re much more likely to be seriously harmed going out as a driver on the roads every day than you are by donating a kidney. But because driving helps us individually, people do it without thinking.
Because donating to a stranger helps someone else, people struggle to accept the reasoning behind it.
“After the operation I didn’t notice any difference.
“If it wasn’t for the fact that I have a few little scars on my abdomen, I really can’t believe they took a kidney out. Even now if they turned around and said it was all a joke and they hadn’t taken the kidney out, I would believe them. It hasn’t affected me one bit.”
After undergoing the procedure, Ms Franks started a blog to share her experiences, where she received some critical and unpleasant emails.
“Some people called me stupid and selfish, that I wasn’t thinking of my family, that I was only thinking of myself. That sort of bullying didn’t affect me one bit, because I knew I had made the right decision. Had I not done the research I did, those comments would have affected me badly.
“On the other hand, I’ve had lots of support. I’m humbled to know through my blog that I’ve encouraged other people to donate altruistically.”
In the year 2013/14 the Human Tissue Authority approved 1,290 cases of living organ donation – 1,242 kidneys and 48 liver lobes. Of these approvals, 124 were for non-directed altruistic kidney donations.
In 2012/13 there were 1,243 living organ donations approved, 1,200 kidneys and 43 liver lobes, of which 103 were altruistic kidney donations. In 2011/12 there were 1,214 approvals in total, 1,165 for kidneys and 49 for liver lobes, of which 39 were for altruistic kidney donations.
Ms Khalfan said that although the number of operations carried out is slightly less than the number approved, the vast majority of donors go through with the operation once approved.
The HTA’s Director of Strategy and Quality said: “Becoming a living organ donor is a remarkable thing to do, and to do it for someone you don’t know is doubly so.
“The huge increase in people willing to donate that we’ve seen over the years is incredible – every year the number of living donation cases rise. It seems that as public awareness of living organ donation spreads, and we see more advances in medicine, the number of people willing to donate keeps rising.
“The HTA remains committed to ensuring that anyone considering donation can do so with confidence.”
To read Ms Franks’s blog visit www.livingkidneydonation.co.uk.
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