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Friday, November 20, 2009

After another week on dialysis he called back: Kidney donation

The first patient to list himself publicly on MatchingDonors.com was Bob Hickey, a psychologist in his mid-fifties who'd learned he had kidney cancer. At first, he'd done what his doctor told him to do: he went on dialysis, signed up on the official waiting list for a cadaver kidney in his region, and hoped that he would reach the top of the list before he died. His transplant center told him that he should expect to wait about four years.

On dialysis, you are attached to a machine for several hours at a time, usually three or four times a week, while the machine siphons off all your blood, cleans it of toxins, and injects it back into your body. Often the process leaves you too exhausted to work, or do much of anything besides recover. After four and a half years of dialysis, Bob, still waiting on the list, decided he'd had enough. He would rather die.

Less than a month later, he saw a newspaper article about a new company starting up – MatchingDonors. Bob phoned them, and the head of the company told him the service cost $295 a month, or $595 for life. Bob told him he was a carpetbagger and a rip-off and hung up. After another week of dialysis, he called back and signed on. Within a month, he had dozens of offers.

He screened them into a smaller set, and picked one at random: Rob Smitty of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The two men talked on the phone, and agreed. Bob was so excited that he jumped in his car and drove from Vail to Denver, more than 100 miles, to the transplant center to deliver the good news. The transplant center staff cautioned him, but accepted Rob as a donor.

Surgeons performed the transplant in October, 2004. Ever since, Bob has made kidneys his life's work. He advises people who are considering transplants. He raises money to compensate donors for expenses and lost wages. (Other forms of compensation for donors are illegal.) And he's fighting the kidney establishment on several fronts.

Advice: Read the stories at MatchingDonors.com

Read another story about a kidney match through MatchingDonors. Thanks to Larissa MacFarquhar for the source story in the New Yorker of July 27.

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