Kidneys discarded while patients wait

While working on our recent series about groups that recover organs for transplantation, Luis Fabregas and I noticed that a lot of kidneys go unused. Taxpayers pay for them anyway. We ran the numbers and came up with this story.

At the same time, UNOS, the group that sets the rules for organ transplantation has made a change that responds to an issue we raised in 2009. Doctors who run dialysis centers were not telling patients about transplant options. Under the new rules, when this happens, patients will at least get time toward a new kidney. This story explains the change.

Joyce Biearman, 57 of Wheeling, West Virginia gets dialysis at Wheeling Dialysis Center Wednesday, March 26, 2014.  Biearman is on the organ donor list waiting for a kidney.

Joyce Biearman, 57, has been waiting on a kidney for three years. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review

Every time the phone rings, Joyce Biearman wonders whether there’s a kidney waiting for her.

Biearman, 57, who recently moved from South Fayette to Wheeling, W.Va., has lived like this for three years. About 4,300 people die on the kidney transplant waiting list each year, but she said she’s not concerned that doctors throw out 2,600 donor kidneys annually.

“I really don’t sit and think about the fact that maybe somewhere a kidney has been discarded because someone was overly cautious,” she said. “I never give that a second thought.”

Taxpayers paid $405.6 million through Medicare to the nation’s independent organ procurement organizations for donor kidneys in 2012, and one in five of those 13,296 kidneys was discarded, a Tribune-Review investigation found. Read more.

Video by Jasmine Goldband:

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