Old organs give new hope to patients in need of donations

August 27, 2012

More than 90,000 Americans are on the waiting list for a kidney donation. In some parts of the country, it can take up to 10 years, and many people in need die before an organ becomes available.

Using organs from older donors could be a game--changer.

Married 49 years, Bob and Sue Brown are a perfect match.

"We've always been best friends," said Bob. "Everything we do, we do together."

WHEN SUE needed a kidney, Bob hoped he'd be her perfect match again.

"He didn't hesitate. He just stepped up to the plate," said Sue.

But Bob was 75 at the time – and wondered if he might be too old to be a donor.

Dr. Dorry Segev says it's a common concern among older people who want to donate.

"You're not too old. If you're healthy, you can donate, even if you're over 70," said Johns Hopkins' Dr. Segev.

Segev recently conducted a study supporting that. In it, patients who received donated kidneys from people over 70 were not any more likely to die within 10 years of transplantation, compared to people who received kidneys from younger donors.

Also, the older donors lived longer than non--donors of the same age.

"We are realizing that if somebody is healthy, chronological age is not the same as medical age," said Dr. Segev.

But, the research shows kidneys from older donors are more likely to fail within 10 years compared to kidneys from younger donors.

The doctor says they are still a better option than waiting for an organ from a deceased donor -- and they could help lessen the national shortage.

"If we can bring forward more healthy older adults, then they can make a huge impact," said Dr. Segev.

Bob was able to donate his kidney to Sue.

"She needed one, and I gave it to her," Bob said.

"He's just that kind of person that does the right thing," said Sue.

While they share kidneys, the couple looks forward to sharing their next big adventure.

The doctor says older organ donations are becoming more common. He says older deceased donors may also be considered as long as their organs are healthy.

WHO CAN DONATE ORGANS: Just about anyone, at any age, can become an organ donor. Anyone younger than 18 needs to have the consent of a parent or guardian. For organ donation after death, a medical assessment will be done to determine what organs can be donated. Certain conditions, such as having HIV, actively spreading cancer, or severe infection would exclude organ donation. Having a serious condition like cancer, HIV, diabetes, kidney disease, or heart disease can prevent you from donating as a living donor. Let your transplant team know about any health conditions you have at the beginning of the process. Then they can decide whether you're a good candidate. (Source: WebMD.com)

STATISTICS & FACTS FOR PEOPLE 50+: More than 99 million individuals in the U.S. are 50 years of age and over. People of all ages can sign up to be donors, even in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. People over 50 can be transplant recipients as well. Your age doesn't make you ineligible to sign up, nor do you have to be in perfect health. Your ability to donate is determined at the time of death. Organ and tissue transplants are needed by people in every corner of America; people of all ages, from infants to grandparents, are on the national transplant waiting list. Two thirds of the individuals waiting for an organ transplant in 2011 were 50 years old or older. That year 2,242 deceased donors were between 50–64 years of age. Five hundred and ninety--five deceased donors were 65 or older. In 2011, 17,089 of the 28,535--or 59.9%--of the people transplanted were 50+. According to the 2005 National Survey of Organ and Tissue Donation Attitudes and Behaviors, conducted by The Gallup Organization, 20.13% of people over 65 years of age mistakenly think they are too old to donate an organ while 11.73% believe they are too old to receive one. As of April 13, 2012, according to OPTN, there are 51,718 people between 50 and 64 years old on the national waiting list and 21,172 people over 65 years old on the national waiting list. (Source: organdonor.gov)

HOW TO BECOME AN ORGAN DONOR: Sign up as an organ and tissue donor in your state's donor registry. To cover all bases, designate your decision on your driver's license, tell your family about your donation decision, tell your physician, faith leader, and friends, and include donation in your advance directives, will, and living will. (Source: organdonor.gov)

For More Information, Contact:
Stephanie Desmon
(410) 956--8665

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