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Can the blogosphere find a kidney donor?

Can you get a kidney from the blogosphere or from Craigslist?

This past Sunday in Manhattan, I met Debbie D. at TheLunchClub .net’s Q&A with Craig Newmark.

Debbie is now trying to find a kidney for her brother Neil on Craigslist. Neil is 41, in good health, a non-smoker and non-drug-user. He’s married and has an 8-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy. In early 2004, on a regular annual checkup, his doctor said, “The tests say you’re in renal failure. How could that be?”

Picture of Neil, who is now seeking a kidney, and his wife.

After more tests, it turned out that Neil had a rare blood cancer, and one of the symptoms is renal failure. Neil has had to quit his job as a mortgage broker, and for the past 10 months, he has been undergoing chemotherapy and dialysis simultaneously. By coincidence, he has the same doctor who has been working with basketball player Alonzo Mourning, who recently received a kidney transplant.

The doctors have advised him that unless he gets a new kidney, he will need dialysis for the rest of his life. Essentially, this means that 3 days a week, 4 hours a day, he has to be hooked up to a machine which functions as his kidney.

Neil and his family started desperately seeking a kidney. After a few fruitless months, Debbie had an idea: why not post on Craigslist? In two years, she had already used Craigslist to buy and sell things, to find some short-term jobs, “to meet some very psychotic men”, and even to find a puppy for her other brother.

Last year, she even responded to an ad from the TV show, “Livin’ it up with Ali and Jack”, which was seeking a “very 70s-style room” to redo. Debbie suggested that the TV show redo her brother’s old bedroom, which was an exemplar of tacky 70s fashion. “Livin’ it up with Ali and Jack” came in for a day and a half and completely redid the room-while filming Debbie and Neil wearing afros and disco dancing.

So, why not use Craigslist to find a kidney?

Debbie posted an ad under the “General” category in 10 major U.S. cities. The ad read:

A Long Shot But Worth A Try…

Let me start off by saying that there are some very extraordinary people in the world, who do huge things from the goodness of their heart and for no other reason. I understand most cannot do this, including myself, and therefore respect everyone’s beliefs, decisions and feelings on things. Having said that, my brother will soon need a kidney transplant, and while family members are being tested to see if anyone is a match, I wanted to cover as much ground as possible in the search for a donor. His kidneys failed last year when he was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. One symptom of this cancer is kidney failure. Now that he underwent chemotherapy and stem-cell transplant (his own cells were transplanted once the cancer was wiped out), the doctors said we can move on to the next issue which is finding a kidney donor.

A bit about my brother: His Blood Type is A. He is 41yo and otherwise healthy. He was never a drinker, drug-user or smoker. He was never much of a junk food eater and he has played basketball for 20+ years. He is also the father of two young children. While waiting for a kidney match, my brother has to go to dialysis three days a week for four hours each day. He is hooked up to a machine for all those hours. Dialysis takes away a lot of life’s quality and leaves my brother tired, drained and sometimes causes nausea, headaches and leg cramps. He cannot pick up or play with his children as he used to. If you or someone you know is willing to donate a kidney please let me know. Anyone willing to do this would of course have to be tested to see if he/she is a match. Your blood type should be A or O. I know this is a long shot but one never knows without asking. If you are willing to donate your kidney please contact me. I will give you all of the information needed. Please consider giving the gift of life. Thank you!!

*For those of you who’d want to help but can’t bring yourself to do so, don’t feel bad at all. Personally, the mere sight of a needle freaks me out so I truly understand.

I think this will be helpful to anyone considering donating a kidney:

Click on the link below- when on the page click on View Webcast Preview on the right side, in the box titled Webcast Center (4th up from bottom)

http://www.or-live.com/meritcare/1145/

Click on the link below- once on the page, scroll to the middle of page and click on
“View Living Kidney Donation Video.” (It’s underneath Laparoscopic Kidney Removal)

http://www.umm.edu/transplant/

To get in touch, please contact “jadjfd at yahoo dot com”.

Debbie and Neil posted on numerous other sites, but the only sites that generated inquiries from real potential donors were Craigslist and MatchingDonors.com. On his MatchingDonors.com site, Neil got over 800 hits.

From Craigslist alone, Debbie got a total of six serious people who were interested in donating. Among them were:

+ A man in Williamsburg wrote to say that he had received a kidney from his brother four years ago. He offered to share his experiences in going through the process, which Neil very much appreciated. Unfortunately, he did not have a spare kidney to donate.

+ A woman from Queens responded, met with Neil, got tested, and decided in the end not to donate. She said that giving up a body part was just too much for her.

+ A 20-year-old woman from Nigeria (now living in the US) who had found an apartment and two roommates on Craigslist. She met Neil, got tested, but unfortunately she was not a match.

+ A man from Los Angeles wrote to say that he also needs a new kidney, since his current kidney was only 20% functional. He will need to start dialysis in 6 months. He said he wanted Debbie’s advice, particularly about her experience using Craigslist. He too was placing ads on Craigslist when he discovered Debbie’s ad.

The Angeleno mentioned that he had received an inquiry from a woman in Texas. Unfortunately, the doctors had said that the Texan was not able to donate to the Californian because of incompatible blood types. (Perhaps red state blood doesn’t go into blue state bodies?). The Texan woman’s roommate is now being tested for compatibility.

However, both the Texan and Neil had Type A blood. So the Angeleno forwarded the Texan’s email to Debbie, and the two spoke.

The Texas woman is now undergoing a series of tests at Mt. Sinai hospital. Debbie is optimistic that she’ll be a match. Debbie found the personal website of the Texan, and noticed that she had been involved in organizing a breast cancer fundraiser because her mom was a breast cancer survivor.

So we hope for good news soon.

Sites like eBay and Craigslist have business models that probably would not work in many societies. Both of these sites are mechanisms for complete strangers to connect with one another and make transactions. Whenever you enter a business transaction, you run the risk of being cheated. However, over 30% of Americans believe, “most people can be trusted.” (Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone (New York: Touchstone Books, 2000), 140.). That trust makes these sites work.

Of course, there are always cr
iminals. eBay has a large staff of security people who chase down miscreants; Craig Newmark has his “keyboard of justice.”. Inevitably, some slime seeps through. But these companies make it just difficult enough to be slimey that millions of people feel comfortable using these sites, even to the point of offering body parts to complete strangers.

Debbie recommends the following links, if you want to learn more about kidney donation:

+ “So far five members of the Falsey clan have donated kidneys- and they’re not done yet”

+ Living Donors

+ (UNOS) United Network for Organ Sharing

There is a significant amount of controversy over the possibility of donating organs to strangers. Robert Cranston of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity lists some concerns, and USA Today has covered the controversy.

In America, we allow consenting adults to do just about anything to or with one another, with some exceptions….e.g., employers are prohibited from employing people at a rate below the minimum wage. I think it’s beautiful that the internet is allowing consenting adults to help one another in such a powerful and deep way.

Please spread this story. I personally spoke with Debbie and Neil, and hope that the blogosphere can help them. It will be a good reason to give thanks on Thanksgiving.

UPDATE: I just received the email below from Robert Berend
(rberend at igc dot org):

Hi. I am the guy mentioned as the Angeleno in the article with kidney function under 20%. Just to clarify, I live in the SF area, but was raised in LA. I’ve been trading some emails with Debbie, and yes, got her in touch with Rhonda. The woman from TX actually was not a compatible blood type, so the doctors at UCSF suggested she not donate. However, her roommate is also able to donate to me, and, at present, his blood is being tested as step one. We hope that he will be a match…so I can have a transplant in January 2005. Should you wish to mention me (five other potential donors or so have either changed their minds or been found ineligible) to further the cause of organ donation, Craig, or other…you have my permission, and I’d be glad to have people contact me. BTW, I’m getting married in two weeks.
Thank you. Robert Berend 510 527 5332

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