15 Deaths A Day — Preventable

My first, innocent Google-search last month on live kidney donation taught me that 15-17 people die every day in the U.S. as they are waiting on the kidney transplant list.

I gaped, gobsmacked. I’d had no idea. And the U.S. has only 4% of the world’s population. So globally, death from kidney disease must be on the scale of a permanent natural disaster.

“Those deaths seem preventable,” my friend John said when I told him. “I think most of them are,” I said slowly.

Many of us, of all ages, have quiet fantasies of heroism, of saving a life through our courage. (I personally thrill to the idea of doing a flying tackle of a mass shooter as he pauses to reload for bullets. I realize this is an unusual fantasy for a middle-aged woman, but I’m a hill-runner, still fairly fast, and I don’t think this is completely beyond the pale.)  

Whatever type of heroism pulls at us, we typically trudge forward with our workaday lives, trying to stay ahead of the bills and get entertained enough to recover from our work and worries, and return to trudge another mile on the treadmill.

Giving big, or even giving at all, can elude us. It has often eluded me. I’ve spent much of my life absorbed with concern for myself. I know this because I have hundreds of handwritten journals that document it.

But I talked with a woman recently, Heather Hannam, who did give big, save a life and become a hero. She doesn’t report it that way, but Vi Beaty does. Vi is the woman Heather knew just slightly, but who now hosts one of Heather’s kidneys. The article I wrote on their live kidney donation mentions Vi’s belief that God created us with care, with intention, with two kidneys so that we can, if we choose, donate one to someone who would die without it.

(Note: I used to think that people on dialysis did not need kidney transplants, that the dialysis kept everything under control. Then I learned that people on dialysis die, on average, 5-7 years after starting it. Plus, dialysis exhausts people. They sometimes despair. Some even become suicidal.)

Heather reports deep joy and satisfaction from her live kidney donation. Would she do it over again? “Absolutely. But people overestimate the altruism part. I got a lot out of doing it.”

So, with 15-17 people dying daily while they wait on the kidney transplant list, wouldn’t the problem be solved if everyone signed up to donate their kidneys upon death?

Actually, it wouldn’t (though we should still sign up for that).  In this post I explain the surprising truth of why. 


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