There are currently 116,491 people on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant. Each day, an average of 20 of these people on this list will die, often due to a lack of available organs.
Thankfully, there’s some good news. An innovative organ donation voucher scheme has arrived and it's already saving lives. A new study in the journal Transplantation highlights three recent kidney voucher case studies that led to 25 lifesaving transplants across the US.
Here’s how it all works. The scheme allows a person to donate a kidney in advance of when a friend or family member might need a kidney transplant. If you sign up to the program, your healthy kidney will be transplanted into a stranger on dialysis. However, since you have already donated an organ into the system, your desired recipient (often a friend or family member) will be given a “voucher” that gives them priority in being matched with a donor when they need an organ transplant.
“Some potential kidney donors are incompatible with their intended recipient based on blood type; others may be incompatible based on time,” said Dr Jeffrey Veale, a transplant surgeon who helped initiate the program at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, in a statement. “The voucher program resolves this time incompatibility between the kidney transplant donor and recipient.”
The idea was first brought forward by Howard Broadman, a grandfather who knew that his grandson would require a transplant in 10 to 15 years. By this time, Broadman could be too old to donate.
“I was 64 at the time, and my grandson Quinn was 4. I know Quinn will eventually need a transplant, but by the time he’s ready, I’ll be too old to give him one of my kidneys,” Broadman explained in 2016. “So I approached UCLA and asked, ‘Why don’t I give a kidney to someone who needs it now, then get a voucher for my grandson to use when he needs a transplant in the future?’ And that’s just what we did.”
One of these three cases featured in the new study is Broadman. His kidney donation initiated a chain with three recipients. When his grandson Quinn needs a transplant in a decade or so, he will be given priority for a kidney transplant. In effect, Broadman will be indirectly giving his kidney to his grandson while helping to keep the waiting list "stocked up" with organs for others. Not only that, but this voucher system triggered a chain of donations that so far has resulted in 25 transplants.
The program is spreading fast too, with 30 transplant centers joining the scheme as part of the National Kidney Registry.