By Peter Laird, MD
Altruistic renal donation is the underlying ethical framework for our current donor system in America. Many have prematurely declared altruism dead, but the news highlighted in the New York Times speaks loudly that we have yet to see the full power of a complete stranger willing to offer himself as a gift of life. In this case, it started a chain that will now benefit over thirty renal transplant recipients. His story is worth sharing and extolling the benefits of altruistic donation.
What made the domino chain of 60 operations possible was the willingness of a Good Samaritan, Mr. Ruzzamenti, to give the initial kidney, expecting nothing in return. Its momentum was then fueled by a mix of selflessness and self- interest among donors who gave a kidney to a stranger after learning they could not donate to a loved one because of incompatible blood types or antibodies. Their loved ones, in turn, were offered compatible kidneys as part of the exchange. . .
Dr. Robert A. Montgomery, a pioneering transplant surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, which was not involved in the chain, called it a “momentous feat” that demonstrated the potential for kidney exchanges to transform the field. “We are realizing the dream of extending the miracle of transplantation to thousands of additional patients each year,” he said.
Dr. Montgomery is correct that kidney chains have the potential of transforming the field, but they all begin with a complete stranger willing to give of himself for nothing in return but a scar. The miracle of altruistic donation should never become too frequent to celebrate each and every sacrifice instance. Thank you Mr. Ruzzamenti, you have done well.