Obesity keeps thousands from becoming organ donors
Many hospitals require organ donors to have a body mass index under 35.
Thousands of Americans are waiting for kidney donations that could make the difference between life and death. There are lots of reasons why so many of them have to keep waiting such as too few donors or problems finding a match.
For 66-year-old Christine Hall, it was something different.
"I've never had time to volunteer for anything," says Hall. "I've never been in a position to write a check for something I believe in, but this was something I could do."
Hall wanted to donate a kidney to a total stranger. She says she didn't have any big reasons for doing so. She just had a desire to give back.
"This was my chance to make a difference and do something for somebody," says Hall.
But even though she had the will, she didn't have the weigh. She weighed too much. Doctors told her she was too fat to donate, a problem affecting millions of Americans and potential organ donors.
"It's really a national epidemic," says Dr. Matthew Cooper, director of kidney transplantation at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital. He says they don't keep track of how many donors are obese, but he's being forced to turn more and more people away because of their weight.
"One of the things that we have learned is that obesity in organ donors is quite dangerous," says Dr. Cooper.
That's because being overweight is a major risk factor for chronic illnesses that can lead to kidney disease. If you just have one kidney, that can be fatal.
"If we're in fact making dangerous decisions or not using our best judgments and end up creating the next group of folks who are going to need kidney transplants then we're really not serving the population," says Dr. Cooper.
Right now there is no national weight limit for donors, but about 10 percent of hospitals, including Georgetown, require donors to have a body mass index under 35.
"I was just determined to see it through and the only obstacle was totally under my control," says Hall.
Hall worked with Georgetown doctors and nutritionists to lose the weight. She lost 40 pounds in about six months. Saving another person's life was her motivation.
"There was a match for me and he was waiting and so I was on a mission," says Hall. "I was eating for two, so every time I was tempted to eat something I shouldn't, I thought about him."
She continued dropping the weight, even after her surgery. She lost a total of 85 pounds.
"I owe him as much as he owes me, because he gave me the motivation to do something I've been wanting to do for years," says Hall. "In a way, I feel like I got more than I gave, because he gave me the gift of good health."
Doctors at many hospitals do work with potential donors to help them lose weight. They also make sure that patients are willing to change their lifestyle, so they can stay healthy post-donation.
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