March 23, 2019

On Donating a Kidney to My 70-Year-Old Father

“Two summers ago, my father asked if I would give him one of my kidneys.

He was 70 at the time, suffering from kidney disease. I was 39 with a wife and two young kids, and I was blindsided by his request. I just said, “I’ll think about it. Give me the information.”

I did think about it. A year later, my father and I found ourselves at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey, where doctors would remove one of my kidneys and transplant it into him. It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made — and in the end, while it was certainly gratifying, what truly convinced me to do it was that all the facts and data told me that it was simply the sensible, practical, right thing to do.

You may have read Dylan Matthews’s account on this very site of his kidney donation to a total stranger. It was a remarkably generous act, and I admire him deeply for it.

But that experience is fairly uncommon. The fact is that 95 percent of live donors give their kidneys to someone they know. Out of the more than 6,000 live donor transplants made last year in the United States, some 300 were donated to strangers. Most donors never thought this is something we would do until faced with the prospects of a loved one going into kidney failure.”

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