(08/10/12) - A shift in thinking may mean more people can be organ donors, which could mean more lives saved. Nearly 90,000 Americans are waiting for a kidney right now. That wait, for some people, can be up to 10 years. Many people die before they find donors. But, using organs from older donors could shorten the wait and better the odds.
Married 49 years, Bob Brown says he and his wife, Sue, are a perfect match. "We've always been best friends. 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," Sue says.
But Bob was 75 at the time, and wondered if he might be too old to be a donor. It is a common concern, says Dr. Dorry Segev, 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," says Segev, the transplant surgery director of information technology at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.
He recently conducted a study supporting that. In it, patients who received donated kidneys from people older than 70 were not any more likely to die within 10 years of transplantation, compared to people who received kidneys from younger donors.
Also, he says, 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."
But, the same 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.
They could help lessen the national shortage, Dr. Segev points out. "If we can bring forward more healthy older adults, then they can make a huge impact."
Bob was able to donate his kidney to Sue. "She needed one, and I gave it to her."
Not a surprise at all to his wife. "He's just that kind of person that does the right thing."
Dr. Segev says older organ donations are becoming more common. He says older deceased donors may also be considered, as long as their organs are healthy.
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