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Number of patients who die awaiting kidney reaches new high

June 18, 2009 |  2:00 pm

The shortage of donor organs has been a problem for many years, and it isn't getting any better. A study published today found that 46% of patients age 60 and older currently on the waiting list for a kidney transplant will die before receiving an organ from a deceased donor. The study is published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

People in search of a kidney may have better luck trying to find a living donor -- someone who will give up one of their two kidneys.

Kidney "We have now reached a notable benchmark in which nearly half of newly listed older candidates will not survive the interval to receive a deceased donor transplant," the lead author of the study, Jesse D. Schold, said in a news release. "Our results emphasize the particular need to consider living donation as an alternative source for some older patients -- or alternatively, the critical importance of navigating the steps to receive a deceased donor transplant as rapidly as possible."

Schold, an associate instructor of medicine at the University of Florida, analyzed data on nearly 55,000 patients over age 60 who were on the U.S. waiting list for a kidney transplant from 1995 to 2007. Patients age 70 and older and African Americans were even more likely to die before receiving a kidney. Besides age, factors such as blood type and being on dialysis at the time of listing also affected the odds of receiving a transplant. The study also found wide variations in regions of the country.

The number of people who need kidneys is increasing while the number of donors has remained stable. That means time on the waiting list has grown and more people die. Only certain patients are viable organ donors at the time of death. While many family members consent to donation, an astonishing number of Americans refuse to offer what has been called "the gift of life."

Information on organ transplantation, donation and procurement can be found on the websites of the United Network for Organ Sharing and Donate Life America.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: A patient receives kidney dialysis. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times