As a transplant surgeon, I have always felt privileged to watch the strength and dignity of patients who are dealing with their illnesses. But one group of patients I take care of, that includes both young and old members, affects me more than most: patients with kidney failure. Kidney failure is caused by many diseases, including congenital kidney disease, autoimmune kidney disease, hypertension, and diabetes. Few of these patients are responsible for their illness. All of them are suffering greatly. Patients with kidney failure have only one real hope: a kidney transplant. It is my job to help them, but all too often I can't.
The transplant community has made great advances in the last few decades in performing kidney transplants, but the most significant problem in our discipline in the 1970s remains the biggest problem now. We don't have enough organs.
Is this solvable? I think it is.
Currently, there are about 100,000 people on the wait list for a kidney transplant in this country. A majority of these patients are on dialysis, and many are on hemodialysis. The annual cost for hemodialysis is greater than $80,000 per year, assuming there aren't any major health complications.
This cost does not capture the poor quality of life most of these patients endure, and I can't count the number of times patients on dialysis have told me "it's necessary, but no way to live." The best option for these patients, in terms of quality of life, quantity of life, and cost to the healthcare system, is kidney transplantation.