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What would you give to save a stranger's life? Dear Miriam.


I salute the 22 people who have donated kidneys to strangers since the law allowed it in 2006.

They have nothing to gain from such a selfless act, other than knowing they've saved and transformed the life of someone with kidney failure.

They are not donating to relatives or friends and they aren't involved in pooled donation - where a would-be donor and recipient, whose blood types and tissues are incompatible, are matched with other donors and recipients in the same situation.

Living generously

In my opinion, these donors are very special people who are genuinely inspired by a love of the human race.

There are risks, including an infection after the operation, reaction to anaesthetic, possible blood clots and pain, not to mention the inconvenience of being off work for two to 12 weeks. And as with all operations there is a risk of death.

Then, of course, a second kidney is an insurance policy.

Although we can live happily with one, it's nice to know the second is there as a back-up - or a possible match for a relative (close relatives' organs are more likely to be compatible).

What ALL of us can do

Few of us are this generous. But we can all do something very important to help relieve the shocking organ shortage in the UK - and that's to put ourselves down on the national Organ Donor Register.

By doing that, someone in desperate need of an organ transplant can benefit when we die.

Now is the perfect time as it's National Transplant Week. There are more than 9,000 people who desperately need an organ transplant in the UK but only around 3,000 will take place this year. Meanwhile around 1,000 people will die waiting.

At the moment, we have an optin system in the UK - which means that, when someone dies, their organs can only be donated if they had already agreed to join the register, or if their relatives agree.

After death, the condition of an organ deteriorates swiftly so a decision is needed fast, putting grief-stricken relatives under pressure to choose.

In 40% of cases they refuse, probably because they don't know what the dead person would have wanted.

New system needed

That's why I'd like to see an optout system introduced, in which a dead person's organs are taken automatically unless they've signed a form asking for this not to happen.

I first saw this system at work more than 20 years ago in Singapore, with excellent results, and I'm sure introducing it here would save lives.

I'm convinced that more people don't put themselves on the organ register not because they don't want to donate their organs but because they just don't get round to it.

In 2003, nine out of 10 people said they supported organ donation in a UK Transplant survey but only one in four has registered.

Unfortunately, we need more organs than ever - partly because we have an ageing population but also because there's been an increase in kidney failure and because fewer people are dying in suitable circumstances.

Organs need to be transplanted very soon after someone has died, with most coming from victims of accidents or brain haemorrhages who have died in hospital.

However, there's no risk of organs being taken before you die - strict procedures are in place to prevent mistakes and death is confirmed by doctors who have nothing to do with transplants.

Body benefits

After death

Besides the major organs - kidneys, heart, liver, lungs, pancreas and the small bowel can all be transplanted - you can also donate tissue. Every year, thousands of people with a severe eye disease or injury have their sight restored by donated corneas, while a bone transplant can prevent limb amputation in patients suffering from bone cancer, and heart valves can help children born with heart defects.

For more info or to register, call the donor helpline on 0300 123 23 23 or visit

Living gifts

BLOOD stocks always run low in summer. Visit the National Blood Service at

BONE MARROW patients with diseases such as leukaemia desperately need bone marrow. Visit the Anthony Nolan Trust on

Sperm and egg

There's a shortage of sperm and egg donors in the UK, probably partly because any child born this way now has the right to trace their natural parent, but also because the process needs considerable commitment from donors.

For more info, visit the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority at

A new kidney transformed my world

Bob Thompson, 47, a photographer from Norwich, got a kidney from his brother two and a half years ago after suffering kidney failure.

At 22, I was diagnosed with a genetic condition that gave me a one in three chance of kidney failure in my early 40s. But I was very fit - into mountain biking and running - and convinced myself it would never happen.

Then at 44 I started getting odd symptoms including headaches, chest pain and cramps in strange places, like fingers and toes. Tests revealed that I was in the later stages of kidney failure.

It was a terrible shock and I had to go on to dialysis, which does the kidney's job of cleaning the blood, almost immediately. It involves being hooked up to a machine via a needle, for about four hours three times a week. It's incredibly draining and very restrictive for work, travel and food. So many foods were totally off-limits including potatoes, chocolate and even too much fruit.

It was hard not to feel depressed. There was a four to five-year wait for a transplant but I knew of people who'd been on dialysis for years. Then my brother Mike very generously offered to donate a kidney. After a year of tests on us, the operation finally went ahead and my life was totally transformed. The moment I came round, my head felt clearer. Since then I've gradually got back into cycling, running and swimming.

Most of all it's made me treasure things I took for granted, like spending time with my kids Lisa, 18, and Adam, 12.

I'll always be grateful to Mike for the amazing thing he did.

But he wouldn't have had to make this sacrifice if there wasn't such a shortage of organs.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 10, 2009
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