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Kerala shows the way in kidney donations

nationpaper Updated: Jun 15, 2016 08:57 IST

THRISSUR: Considered a medical wonder, Father Paul Vattakuzy is a permanent invitee to most seminars and lectures on organ donation. Despite the life expectancy of a kidney recipient set to 10-15 years, he continues to live a healthy life 31 years after transplant.

But 59-year-old Vattakuzy is among the lucky few in the country who get this second chance at life. In India, a person dies waiting for a kidney every 15 minutes, and another person takes his place on the long list of patients.

Figures from the health ministry show the number of kidneys required each year is between 1.5 and 2 lakh, but legal transplants stand at around 5,000. The long wait and non-availability of organs and stringent restrictions force many to turn to the thriving underground market. Desperate patients are often duped, but are forced to suffer in silence for fear of legal action.

Among vital organs that can be harvested, kidney tops the list. While Tamil Nadu ranks No. 1 in cadaver or deceased kidney transplants (1,233 in 2015), Kerala takes the cake in another — it records the most number of living donations. The country saw just 18 voluntary organ donations in 2015, but in Kerala it was 78.

Doctors and activists who work on the field classify live donations into three categories — voluntary donation, cross-donation and family donation. Family donations are most common but cross-donation is gaining popularity in Kerala. In cross-donation a chain of kidney donors is formed, wherein a relative or a friend of the recipient is required to donate their kidney to a suitable recipient.

Last week, Bishop of Pala diocese Jacob Muricken donated his kidney to a Hindu man who was on dialysis for more than a year after his kidneys failed. The bishop heard about his plight from Kidney Federation of India chairman Father Davis Chiramel, who himself donated a kidney seven years ago.

In Kerala, kidney donation picked momentum after Father Chiramel founded the Kidney Federation of India to help distressed patients. He travelled extensively to popularise the concept and soon bankers, doctors, activists and other philanthropists joined his cause. In 2011, inspired by his story, industrialist and chairman of V Guard group of industries, Kochouseph Chittilappily, donated a kidney to a poor truck driver. It triggered an organ-donation drive in the state. In six years, the organisation has assisted in 600 family donations ,26 cross and 60 voluntary donations.

“I dream of a country where not a single person dies for want of organs. We can save many precious lives like this,” said Chiramel, who went sky-diving in 2014 to send a message that a donor can live a normal life. And his message appears to have moved many—an entire village in Thrissur district has pledged to donate organs.

“If a person can live with your organ after your death, it is almost like you living through him ,” said a Rosy Sebastian, a home maker who consented to donate her organs.

In India, a person can donate his kidney if he can prove before a government-appointed panel that there is no exchange of money. Also, the donor should be free of diseases and the organ should be compatible to the recipient. Such strict laws often force patients to turn to organ racketeers.

“Since it was a life and death case, we spent around Rs 10 lakh to get a matching kidney. At the eleventh hour, the donor and his agent disappeared without any clue. Sad my 28-year-old brother died last year. Since it was illegal we couldn’t approach the police also,” said a chartered account, who did not want to be identified.

The state has also been witness to a heart wrenching story of a Hindu woman, Lekha Namboodiri, who donated a kidney to save a dying Muslim man. The recipient allegedly faced a lot of humiliation for receiving a kidney from a Hindu. Two years later, when Namboodiri met with an accident and needed financial assistance, the man, who belonged to a well-off business community, refused to help over fears that he would again be targeted.

“Religious heads and others should come around to remove unnecessary barriers, otherwise illegal organ trade will flourish,” said Father Chiramel, adding the message of organ donation should start from the school-level to curb sale of organs.