Pushing for Improvements in Canada’s Organ Donation and Transplantation System
Education and Advocacy Canada currently has a shortage of kidney donations and a kidney donation can mean the difference between life and death.
For nurse and mother Gwen Herrington, the difference between life on dialysis and life following her kidney transplant is night and day. She says kidney disease robbed her of her profession, her energy, and her ability to think clearly, and she likens dialysis to being on life-support rather than living. “I felt all the losses as my life was eroded away,” she recalls. “It was loss after loss and the hits kept coming until I was left with a tired, painful, small, isolated life.” After her transplant, however, she returned to a life filled with creativity, laughter, and meaningful work.
There is much to celebrate when it comes to the strides made in organ transplants in Canada. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the number of organ transplants in 2017 grew by 22.4 percent compared to 2013, and for kidney transplants specifically, there was a 33 percent jump during the same period. With a five-year survival rate of 82 percent, transplantation is the preferred treatment for kidney failure, compared to a 44.3 percent survival rate for patients on dialysis. Yet dialysis remains the most common therapy for kidney failure.
More progress is required
Despite the advances made in kidney transplants, significant improvement is needed: there were 4,333 people on the waiting list for an organ transplant in 2017. Nearly 3,400 of them were waiting for a kidney transplant. The median wait time for a deceased donor kidney in Canada is 4 years, although it can vary greatly from province to province. The supply of donor organs remains insufficient to meet demand.
“Each deceased donor donates four organs on average. Every missed donor opportunity deprives at least four Canadians of a life-saving transplant,” notes Elizabeth Myles, National Executive Director of The Kidney Foundation of Canada. “We will continue to see many needless deaths every year unless improvements are made to the donation and transplant systems across the country.”
The Kidney Foundation of Canada has been working closely with partners in the organ transplant community to bring about changes to ensure that every potential donor is identified and that everyone awaiting transplant across the country has equitable access to organ transplantation.
“We absolutely need for anyone who is eligible for a transplant to have access to it,” says Gwen when asked about what improvements might mean to those waiting for a donor kidney. “I want them to have that choice so that they have the potential of an even greater life. I am so grateful for dialysis, but for me, it was not a great experience. Transplant has been.”
To find out more about registering to be an organ donor or to get more information about becoming a living kidney donor, visit kidney.ca/organ-donation.