In Hawaii, hundreds wait for transplants


By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

More than 100,000 people nationwide are on a waiting list for organ transplants.

Of those, Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu is searching for donors for 343 patients desperately in need of new kidneys.

By giving a kidney, a donor can either save or greatly improve the life of a transplant candidate, according to Glen Hayashida, state director for the National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii.

“We have a high incidence of kidney disease in Hawaii,” he said. “And I think until very recently, that was increasing. Now, I think it’s just showing signs of slowing down. But we still have a huge problem here.”

About 27 million people across the nation suffer from chronic kidney disease, he said. Here in Hawaii, estimates are that about 156,000 people are affected.

The disease entails a slow loss of kidney function over time, in which the organs become less and less able to filter wastes and excess water from the body. Diabetes and high blood pressure are the two most common causes accounting for the majority of cases.

In Hawaii, there are about 3,000 kidney disease patients who are suffering from kidney failure. As their kidneys have effectively stopped working, they require transplanted kidneys to continue to scrub toxins from their blood, or they must undergo dialysis, which can be difficult and time consuming.

“They have to go to dialysis three times a week, for four hours at a time,” Hayashida said. “That can be very disruptive, not only in a person’s life, but just also in terms of how they feel.”

Especially for younger and more active patients, a kidney transplant is often the best choice, but finding someone to donate a kidney can be very difficult, Hayashida said.

“There’s just not enough organs to go around because the demand is so prevalent,” he said.

He added that patients on waiting lists can wait averages of five to seven years, and for some people, that’s just not fast enough.

“Do people die on waiting lists? Absolutely,” he said.

In fact, in 2008 alone, more than 4,500 kidney transplant candidates died in the U.S. while waiting on a transplant list, according to data provided by the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Potential donors often get hung up on the thought that they’re giving away an organ that they need to stay healthy, Hayashida said.

“Often people think that you are less healthy with one than you are with two. But it doesn’t work that way. Even with one, a person’s kidney functions pretty consistently,” Hayashida said.

Additionally, he said, should a person donate a kidney and then experience kidney trouble down the road, he or she would move to the top of the waiting list when looking for a new kidney.

The actual process of being a living kidney donor is very involved, he added, and can take up to a year.

For additional information about transplants, see the accompanying fact list, and visit the National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii at http://www.kidneyhi.org/.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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