The importance of organ donations
● By Steven Hoffman
In 2009, after battling a rare but debilitating ailment called Fabry disease for years, West Grove resident Bob Lauer was informed by doctors that his kidneys were functioning at just 15 percent, and they were no longer able to remove the toxins from his body. This is one of many health issues that can arise from Fabry, a genetic disease that is characterized by a deficiency of the enzyme alpha galactosidase A due to a mutation that causes a glycolipid known as globotriaosyceramide to accumulate with the blood vessels, other tissues, and organs. This accumulation eventually leads to an impairment of the organs' proper functions. Lauer's kidney functions had deteriorated to the point where he was placed on the National Kidney Donor List to receive a kidney transplant.
The doctors also suggested that he reach out to family and friends to see if any of them would be a donor match.
His wife, Chris, didn’t hesitate. She said right away that she would be tested to see if she could be a donor. Something miraculous happened. Chris was tested and she was a perfect match to donate a kidney to her husband.
“I believe in fate,” Lauer explained. “I have a strong faith, and my wife was tested and was a perfect match.”
After undergoing dialysis treatments for several months, Lauer received the kidney transplant at Johns Hopkins. Everything went well. She went home three days after the transplant, and he went home five days after that.
“My wife saved my life and for that I will be eternally grateful,” Lauer explained.
The experience also convinced Lauer of the importance of sharing his story with others so that they would understand that being willing to donate can mean the difference between life and death for someone else.
“When I was younger, the thought of donating a kidney or any other organ was probably the farthest thing from my mind,” Lauer said. “Only until you are in the situation where one of your organs is failing do you wonder how many people [are in need of an organ transplant].
One person is added to the organ donation waiting list every ten minutes. According to organdonor.gov, each day, on average, 79 people receive organ transplants. Another 22 people die each day waiting for transplants that can’t take place because of the shortage of donated organs.
Lauer believes that more people would be willing to donate kidneys and other organs if they understood how important—and safe—it is.
“The risks are low,” he explained. “You don’t have to take any medications or go back to the surgeon. It’s a one-time thing. My wife donated a kidney to me and she has had no health issues related to the donation. I think more people would donate if they understood that it’s a low-risk procedure.”
Lauer understands that he is very fortunate that his wife was a match. The situation is much more dire for many people who find themselves in need of a kidney donation. A national system with strict standards is in place to ensure the ethical and fair distribution of organs. The organs are matched by blood and issue typing, organ size, medical urgency, waiting time and geographic location.
According to the National Kidney Foundation website, there are approximately 123,000 people in the U.S. currently on the waiting list for a life-saving organ transplant. More than 101,000 of those people need a kidney, but only 17,000 people receive one each year.
With medical advances, organ donations and transplants are becoming more common. Organs and tissues that can be donated include the heart, kidneys, lungs, pancreas, liver, intestines, corneas, skin, tendons, bone, and heart valves.
In Lauer’s family, one of his two brothers who passed away from Fabry disease needed a kidney transplant at one point. Another member of his extended family, Mark McCory, donated bone marrow to his father, Alan McCrory, who is battling two types of cancer.
Lauer added that it’s also important for people to remember to donate blood regularly so that there is an ample supply when people need it.
“One thing that most people can donate is blood,” Lauer said. “I have received blood transfusions several times. This can also be a life-saving gift to someone.”