Kidney debate: Should younger people have first shot at kidney donations?

CHARLESTON,SC (WCSC) - After waiting nearly three years for a kidney, Patricia Sturdivant of Hanahan remembers the day she got the call from MUSC.

"It just happened so fast," Sturdivant said. "I really did not have time to even process it until just as they were about to wheel me out and I told my husband, 'What have I gotten myself into?' "

A kidney had finally arrived for the 60-year-old wife and grandmother.

"They just told me right before I went into surgery that it was a 13-year-old girl and afterwards the doctors said that it couldn't have been a more perfect match," Sturdivant said.

In the future, it could be more difficult for people in Sturdivant's age range to get a transplant.

The United Network for Organ Sharing has proposed giving priority to younger, healthier people in need of kidney transplants over older, sicker patients.

"If somebody needs a kidney and it's a kidney available for them, and it's a match, I can't see their age being held against them because that's going to give them a longer life," Sturdivant said.

"The fundamental issue is how do you divide this pie?," said Dr. Prabhakar Baliga, MUSC chief of transplant surgery. "You're just basically rotating the seats on the Titanic."

In recent years, kidneys have been allocated on a first come, first served basis. Baliga said this proposal aims to even the playing field.

"The distribution of kidneys has changed over the last decade more towards the older age group and now this is trying to reset it and it's clearly towards the younger age group," Baliga said.

With supply low and demand for kidneys high, the issue on who gets priority remains a complicated one.

"Honestly there's no good answer," Baliga said. "The bottom line is until we have more available kidneys, this is always going to be an issue."

The United Network for Organ Sharing is taking comments on the proposal through April 1.

A decision could be made next summer.

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