Age could become a factor in kidney transplants

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by TERESA WOODARD

WFAA

Posted on September 21, 2012 at 11:28 AM

DALLAS -- Critics say the current system of matching kidney donors and recipients means too many kidneys are donated and never used.

"Sometimes they get shipped from center to center, and tested and tested against patient after patient," explained Jim Cutler, President and CEO of Southwest Transplant Alliance.

"This is a significant change," he said, when describing a proposal that will be revealed Friday. Many months of discussion among transplant programs, hospitals, and agencies will follow.

"The new system would take 20 percent of the 'best' kidneys or kidneys that have the potential to last the longest, and give them to the 20 percent of patients that could last the longest," Cutler explained. "So, a simple example would be a young donor going into a young patient."

And the reverse would be true, too.

"Older kidneys would go to older patients," he said.

He said the current system of matching donors and recipients is based on how long someone has been waiting, how close the match is, and how likely it is another match could be found. But there are problems, he said.

"Maybe you have a great match, but it's a 72-year-old donor," he said. "Do you want to give that kidney to a 10-year-old child?"

Greenville teacher Yvonne Pannell, 54, is now on the transplant list for a second time. Her brother donated a kidney to her in 1998, but that gift is now beginning to fail.

"We've done everything we can at this point," she said, shrugging. "I've had a good life, made my mark on society. I don't have any regrets."

Tears began forming in her eyes as she said she's confident God will guide her through.

"I'm willing to accept whatever He gives me," Pannell said.

She sees both sides of the argument about this potential change. A deeply faithful woman, she was almost embarrassed to admit she'd like to get a kidney before someone in their mid-70's who didn't have a lot of life ahead of them.

"God, I know that's selfish," she said, looking skyward.

But she also believes a young person deserves a young, healthy kidney more than she does.

"Statistically, you know their life expectancy is going to be longer than mine, at the age of 54," she said. "They still have their whole life ahead of them. They're a child."

Cutler said researchers used a computer model to test the proposal, and they believe it would significantly reduce the number of kidneys donated but not ever used.

Like Pannell, he says both sides have valid points.

"What they're trying to do is balance all the factors, get increased benefit, but take care of everyone along the spectrum," he said.

As Pannell waits, she takes 22 pills a day. She knows a return to dialysis might come someday soon, but she doesn't ask why.

"You have to think positive," she said. "I don't let it bother me. I just go on, because this is just another something I have to go through. God doesn't put more on you than you can handle."

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

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