When you hear there are websites in the US where patients on dialysis can persuade people to donate a kidney, the first thing you think is ‘that could only happen in America’, writes Cathy Spencer.
Some of the patients sing or sob, others put their children in front of the camera to plead their mummy or daddy’s case – it’s strong stuff.
However, one of the websites is set to be launched in the UK and last night The Kindness of Strangers: Tonight (ITV1) saw presenter Julie Etchingham meet the nation’s first patient to find a match using the service, as well as the Brits already signed up to pick their recipients.
The programme really pulled on the heart-strings and even though it did show those who disapprove of the websites, the majority of the show focused on those in desperate need of a donor.
There was one poor woman who was waiting for a donor on the NHS and had suffered years of dialysis. Whereas Saira Khan had advertised on the internet for a donor – and one had come forward before she had even started on dialysis. Saira’s plea sounded like a lonely hearts advert and said ‘British mother of three urgently needs new kidney’.
An American woman came forward to offer Saira her kidney and the show followed her as she tried to get a hospital in the UK to accept the two patients.
It seems in the UK there are 6,500 kidney patients waiting for a donor to save their life. Other than those who volunteer a kidney after death there are only 117 people who are still alive and decide to donate.
And they have to donate their organ into the hands of the NHS who choose the recipient – there were some people featured who were happy with the anonymous approach, to not know who had received their kidney.
However, there were some people in England who preferred the American approach to finding a donor and so were sending their kidneys over to the US.
It is no wonder that those in the US desperate for a kidney have been making emotional appeals via the internet. The NHS and the Human Tissue Authority, which regulates transplants, recognises that the US websites do indeed prompt many more to come forward to donate organs.
The presenter asked if the new website MatchingDonors is a “cruel X-Factor for the very sick” as we saw a couple, who had made up a tune about needing a kidney, strumming away on their guitars.
It seems only human to want to know where your kidney is going and the NHS seemed to me a bit backward in their approach as in one year the small team at Matching Donors had found double the number of matches than the NHS do.
It may go against their principals – but if more people live then surely it has to be a good thing?
The show looked at one woman who had donated her kidney and she put forward the argument that some people aren’t well enough to sing for the camera or put forward an appeal, but those who are get a kidney and jump the queue.
It is difficult to know what to do, but among the English donors giving their kidney to someone in America was Rebecca Rogers who said: “With the American system you’re personal and bonding with them.
“I like knowing who I am going to give my kidney to. You don’t get that in the UK. You just go to the hospital and they expect you to give it up like that.”
Whatever happens, we can’t stop progress and America is leading the way on this – so maybe it’s only a matter of time before we follow.