Organ donations and transplants are up across Canada, but in some cases, so too are the wait lists according to a new report.
The results of a 10-year study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) show that donations from both live and deceased donors rose from a total of 915 in 2005, remained fairly steady at a little over 1,000 per year between 2006 and 2011, then jumped to a high of 1,145 in 2014; though that also factors in new data from Quebec that wasn’t tallied in the years before 2012.
For those on the list for a transplant, the wait can be agonizing.
Fadia Jerome-Smith was put on the list for a new kidney when she was diagnosed with a condition called focal segmental glomerular sclerosis (FSGS) in 2012.
“I was in teachers’ college and I just had back pains, ridiculous back pains,” she recalls of her first symptoms.
“And I thought ‘oh well, I’m athletic. I pulled something.'”
Years later, Fadia’s kidney function would be reduced to just 10 per cent, requiring a transplant to survive.
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Through Canadian Blood Services’ Paired Exchange Program, her sister Winnie Jerome donated a kidney to a patient in Alberta, which would ensure Fadia would get one of her own. Fadia received that new kidney from a live, anonymous donor just two weeks ago, and is already on her feet and moving around at a decent pace.
“I’m so blessed,” she says.
Her sister Winnie suggests the decision to donate her kidney was an easy one.
“We get to see our kids grow up together, and that’s why I did it,” Winnie says to Fadia.
Aside from donations, the CIHI study also shows the number of transplants rising through most of the 10 years between 2005 and 2014; from 1,863 in 2005 to 2,356 in 2014. Once again, that is supplemented by data from Quebec not collected in years before 2012.
While the increase in donations is a decent one, it’s certainly not a major spike, either.
Dr. Les Lilly, director of Toronto General Hospital’s Gastrointestinal Transplant Program, says the aging population is one reason why more transplants are being requested these days and that the increase in donations isn’t enough to keep up with that pace.
Until people truly embrace the importance of organ donation as they have in parts of the U.S. and other countries, Dr. Lilly believes it will take a long time before the system sees smooth sailing.
“That message just doesn’t get out far enough,” says Dr. Lilly. “I think it’s going to take another generation (to see major gains).”
The CIHI study also tracks trends within individual types of organ transplantation and raises an alarm when it comes to kidney transplants in particular, reporting that since 2005, the wait list has grown to two-and-a-half times the number of transplants performed.
Dr. Lilly says supply will always be lower than ideal, but demand can be minimized for some organs, by living healthier.
“One of the things that unites our liver and kidney patients are the rising rates of diabetes, obesity…hyperglycemia, high cholesterol, high blood pressure.”
Of course, that’s not always the case. In Fadia Jerome-Smith’s case, FSGS came on suddenly and without warning.
She’s just glad help was available.
“Whoever gave me their kidney, I wish I could see them and hug them,” she says. “I’m so grateful.”