India has been facing a shortage in organ donations for a long time now. About 16 or 18 people die every single day while waiting for an organ transplant of a vital organ such as a heart, kidney or liver. Kidney and corneal transplants are by far the most common kind of transplants needed, but with new drugs and improved medical techniques, there are increasing numbers of bone, heart, liver and lung transplants as well. 

With the limited amount of information available online regarding organ donation and transplants, Nephrologist Dr Veerabhadra Gupta of Bangalore Kidney Foundation is here to share vital information you must know if you need a kidney or want to become a kidney donor in India. 

1. What are some things to keep in mind before considering being a kidney donor for a patient or relative?

A person can be an organ donor, either by declaring his intentions voluntarily and signing a donor card (as a deceased donor, in case of brain death), or he can donate his/her organs to the family members as a living donor (as per the transplantation of Human Organ Act).

For living donations, the person has to undergo medical check-ups and needs to go through legal procedures as well. They will be assessed thoroughly and after the consent and counselling with approval from concerned authorities, they will be taken as a donor if deemed medically fit. 

For deceased organ donation, the person should have expressed his/her wish either by signing an organ donor card or expressing his/her wish to the family members. Family members’ consent is needed before donation. 

2. What is the process to get enlisted as a kidney donor?

There are broadly two types of donation categories you could fall under:

The Living Donation Process

The living donor needs to undergo some medical tests and evaluation to check and confirm his/her medical compatibility with the recipient. The living donor’s medical compatibility is confirmed by a group of doctors. Only after all the tests have been positively confirmed that the donor is compatible with the recipient, can the transplant take place. 

The Deceased Donation Process

A deceased donor is often someone who has suffered a fatal injury to the head or had a brain haemorrhage. They are declared brain stem dead by a group of medical experts in a hospital. 

The donor’s family has to give consent for the donation before the process of organ retrieval can be carried out. Meanwhile, the donor is kept on life support with doctors looking after all of his/her needs until the retrieval of the organs is allowed to move forward. 

Suitable recipients for all the organs are identified from a waiting list. They are notified and asked to reach their respective hospitals. After retrieval, the body of the donor is respectfully handed over to the family. 

3. When do people generally need a kidney transplant?

When a person has chronic kidney disease (end-stage renal disease), stage 5, they usually need renal replacement therapy. The best medical option in such a scenario is renal transplantation. 

4. Can you really live a healthy life with just one kidney? 

In general, most people with a single, healthy kidney have few problems. However, some long-term problems have been seen in some people.

In a few cases where people who were born with a single kidney, or had a kidney removed during childhood, there is a chance of slight loss in kidney function later in life. This usually takes 25 years or more to happen. There may also be a chance of having high blood pressure later in life. However, the loss in kidney function is usually very mild, and the life span is normal. Most people with one kidney live healthy, normal lives with few problems.

In other words, one healthy kidney can work as well as two.

5. Does being declared as an organ donor affect the care one receives at the health centres or hospitals?

The doctors will only focus on saving your life, not somebody else’s. You’ll be seen by a doctor whose speciality most closely matches your illness. There will be no difference in your medical treatment given to you, even if you have pledged your organs or not.

In deceased donations, organ donation can occur only after brain death has been declared by the physicians who are not in any way concerned with organ retrieval or the transplant team. The doctor in charge of your care has nothing to do with facilitating transplantation.

6. Can you tell us more about the organ donation centres in India?

There are more than 200 centres doing transplantations in India and their numbers are increasing day by day. You can find a centre closest to you over the web, and even register to be an organ donor online to let your intent be known should a situation arise where the Deceased Donation Process can come into effect. 

Disclaimer: This is for the general information of the readers.  Always consult a Nephrologist for specific renal health problems.