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Organ Donation: 6 Myths that Might Change Your Mind about Giving the Gift of Life

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 Wayne C. Waltzer, MD, Director, Kidney Transplantation Services; Professor and Chair, Department of Urology  and Frank Darras, MD, Clinical Professor, Department of Urology, and Medical Director, Transplantation Services at Stony Brook Medicine, 

STONY BROOK, NY, MARCH 27, 2015 – Did you know that one organ donor can save up to eight lives? And that could be extremely helpful given the fact that in New York State alone, over 10,000 people are waiting for organ transplants, according to LiveOnNY (formally the New York Organ Donor Network).  More than 8,000 people await kidneys; over 1,300 need livers; and more than 300 need hearts.

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Dawn Francisquini RN BSN,

On average, 18 people die every day while waiting for organ transplants in the U.S., and every 10 minutes, another name is added to the waiting list. In New York, someone dies every 15 hours waiting for an organ transplant. So what is keeping these patients from receiving the organs they need? Dawn Francisquini RN BSN, Transplant Senior Specialist, Stony Brook University Department of Transplant, says it could be some of the myths her team tries to bust every day.

Myth #1: In order to be a living donor you have to be the same blood type and sex as the recipient.

Answer: “Yes, in order to directly donate to someone you need to be the same or a compatible blood type,” says Francisquini. "However, if you are not the same blood type you can still donate in the paired exchange program.” The paired exchange is comprised of recipients who have living donors who for some reason cannot donate directly to them.  The “pair” is put into this “pool” with other recipients and living donors who are in the same situation and essentially a swap is made.  For example recipient 1 will receive a kidney from a living donor and in exchange their living donor donates to another recipient in the program.

Furthermore, Francisquini says the sex of a donor does not matter. “A male can donate to a female and vice versa.”  When speaking of living donation, a living donor can be a family member, friend or can be an altruistic unknown- they just need to be healthy.

Myth #2: You cannot have children after being a living donor.

Answer: “This is absolutely not true,” says Francisquini. “In order to be a living donor you must be in good health.” After proper screening of all living donors they can go on to have children.  In fact, kidney transplant recipients can also go on to have children after transplant.

Myth #3: It is against some religions to donate organs.

Answer: All major religions support organ donation and leave it up to the individual.

Myth #4: Only wealthy people get transplants.

Answer: “This is absolutely false,” says Francisquini. “Anyone waiting for an organ transplant has to be placed on the transplant waitlist.”  Organs are then allocated based on waiting time, medical urgency, tissue matching, etc.  A patient’s financial status has nothing to do with how or when they will receive a transplant.

Myth #5: All transplant programs use steroids as maintenance immunosuppression.

Answer: “This was true when transplant first came about and for many years” explains Francisquini. “Currently there are still many programs that use steroids in this way."  However, Stony Brook’s kidney transplant department does not.

Myth #6: Kidney transplant is only for young adults with kidney failure.

Answer: “False, kidney transplant recipients ranging from age 14 months to 78 years of age have been successfully transplanted at Stony Brook, with success rates consistently at or above expected.”

ABOUT STONY BROOK MEDICINE’S KIDNEY TRANSPLANT PROGRAM:

Stony Brook’s Kidney Transplantation Program started in 1981. It is the oldest and most active renal transplant program on Long Island. Wayne C. Waltzer, MD, Director, Kidney Transplantation Services; Professor and Chair, Department of Urology (who has been a part of the program from the beginning), and Frank Darras, MD, Clinical Professor, Department of Urology, and Medical Director, Transplantation Services at Stony Brook Medicine, have both been instrumental in building it into the prestigious, accredited center it is today.

“People who have had a kidney transplant will need a lifetime of follow-up, so Stony Brook has assembled an excellent multidisciplinary team that meets the patient’s needs from pre-transplant assessment to decades-long follow-up,” said Dr. Waltzer. “The team consists of transplant surgeons and nephrologists, in addition to transplant coordinators, physician assistants, clinical nurse managers, nurse practitioners, nutritionists, pharmacists and a number of administrative coordinators, who manage the process from the outset, handling everything from coordinating appointments to insurance approvals.”

“The Stony Brook Kidney Transplant team works to bring patients the latest protocols to improve both their health and quality of life,” says Dr. Darras. “While steroids are effective to prevent rejection, there is a steroid avoidance protocol used at Stony Brook. We were one of the first to study and offer prednisone-free maintenance immunosuppression therapy. This eliminates many side effects patients can experience from taking long term steroids that include infection, diabetes, bone loss and the typical face swelling and puffiness, which can affect a person’s appearance and have an impact on their self-image,” says Dr. Darras. Instead, the team is using the latest, very sophisticated immunosuppressive medications, along with state of the art techniques in identifying antibodies, allowing us to be highly successful in preventing side effects in addition to minimizing rejection events.

"Also, our Stony Brook Team works very diligently to assess every potential living and deceased donor, leading our program to the highest transplant rate in the New York region," explains Dr. Darras.

Because Stony Brook is an academic medical center, the team is continually involved in research on topics that can advance transplant medicine, including immunosuppressive protocols and medications to decrease rejection.

 

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