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Finding Alternative Solutions for Organ Donation: A Patient’s Perspective

Sally Satel

Posted September 5, 2006

Welcome to KidneyTalk!

On this week’s show, Lori Hartwell and Stephen Furst speak with Sally Satel, MD--a psychiatrist, writer, and kidney transplant recipient--on the often controversial subject of organ donation. Dr. Satel (“Sally”) added fuel to the debate over organ donation when an article she wrote appeared in a recent edition of “The New York Times.”

How do you feel about organ donation? Should the United States follow the lead of many European countries by adopting a policy of “presumed consent,” whereby a person is automatically considered an organ donor upon his/her death (unless otherwise noted)? Should we offer financial incentives for organ donors or keep the act of donation strictly altruistic?

No matter the choices, the issues are being debated across the country... from east to west, in newspapers and on radio shows, in board rooms of major medical associations, and among patients and healthcare professionals alike.

Sally understands firsthand the challenges facing people in need of a donated kidney. “I had one of those surprises,” says Sally. “In August 2004, I went to the doctor for a routine checkup and he discovered I had a creatinine of 5. I didn’t even know I had kidney disease!”

Upon learning of her disease, a few of Sally’s friends stepped forward and offered to be donors. When this option didn’t work, Sally turned to the Internet and a donor website. In the end, however, Sally received a kidney from a friend. The overall experience of needing an organ left her frustrated with our current system.

Says Sally: “I think altruism is a beautiful thing, but it’s insufficient as public policy. The waiting list is getting longer every year. Relying solely on altruism isn’t enough. We need to look at incentives.”

The sobering statistics are that 18 people die every day in the United States while waiting for an organ transplant. Currently, nearly 100,000 people are on the waiting list. Of those, about 65,000 are waiting for a kidney, with an estimated wait time of approximately 5 to 8 years.

“It’s definitely a controversial subject,” says Stephen, whose transplant center recently changed policy causing him to lose valuable time on the waiting list. Currently living with her third kidney transplant and well aware of the demand for organs, Lori concurs: “Organ donation is creating a debate; however, it is a healthy debate in this country to start talking about solutions to this problem and bringing in all views--the patients, the healthcare professionals, and elected officials--so that we can discuss solutions and look for new solutions that work. We have to think outside of the box because the demand is only increasing.”

The debate over organ donation in the United States is destined to continue for quite some time. Our hope is that we can help open the door to healthy discussions with positive results.

There are a number of websites that provide information on organ donation. Here are a few:

Email us with your comments! We would like to know what you think about the show.

With your Hosts...

Stephen FurstStephen Furst got his big break into movies in "Animal House," in which he played Flounder. Stephen has also starred as Dr. Elliot Axelrod in "St. Elsewhere" and as Vir Cotto in "Babylon5." He is a successful television and movie producer/director and a kidney patient.


Lori HartwellLori Hartwell is the author of Chronically Happy - Joyful Living in Spite of Chronic Illness, and President/Founder of Renal Support Network. A kidney patient since the age of two, she has consistently strived to instill hope into the lives of people who live with chronic kidney disease. 



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