Lately it’s hard to watch the news, or read the paper without being bombarded with the controversy of healthcare reform; how to pay for it and who should get it. This is a major concern for retirees, who may be fortunate enough to have health benefits from their former employers, or retirees that are now eligible for Medicare benefits.
While I try to live a healthy lifestyle and do what I can to preserve my health, I recently had an experience that really made me think about health and friendship. A friend donated his kidney to another friend. Wow! Since that happened, it made me think about how lucky I am to be healthy! What if you have a disease and you realize that your life may end if you do not receive an organ and perhaps, more importantly, where will this organ come from?
In this case, a letter was sent to family and friends explaining the renal disease and the grim expectations if a transplant was not performed. I think of how scary it would be to send that letter, but also to receive it. You are then faced with a moment that can define your character.
Interestingly, my friend who made the donation chose not to tell anyone until the process was complete. And quite a process it is. Donors are carefully evaluated on medical and psychological grounds. Last year in the United States, 16,517 kidney transplants were performed, 10,551 from cadavers and 5,966 from living donors. The typical transplant patient lives 10-15 years longer after the donation and no longer has to bear the rigor of dialysis.
When my friend finally did confide that he had donated his kidney, I was not surprised as I always knew the strength of his character. However, when I told another friend about it, she quickly said she didn’t think she could do that. And then added she would definitely not do it for someone that was not a family member. That also did not surprise me. It made me think the world is divided into people who will sacrifice their comfort and time for another, and those who would not.
This personal experience made me also think about those who have a disease and do not have health insurance and how this pre-existing condition might affect their longevity and future quality of life. The major consideration about whether an individual is accepted by a kidney transplant program in the U.S. is whether that person has employer based insurance. Transplant recipients must take immunosuppressive anti-rejection drugs for as long as the transplanted kidney functions and this is beyond the financial means of most people without the assistance of insurance.
In March, 2009, a bill was introduced in the Senate and in the House (HR 1458) that will extend Medicare coverage of the drugs for as long as the patient has a functioning transplant. This means patients who have lost their jobs and insurance will so not lose their kidney and be forced back on dialysis. Dialysis is currently using $17 billion yearly of Medicare funds and total care of these patients amounts to 10% of the entire Medicare Budget.
The healthcare debate is complicated and difficult . However, the one thing that we can put no price tag on is friendship. I am happy to have a friend who made such a magnanimous sacrifice for another friend.