Man Donates Kidney, Saves His Own Life

Posted by Alerna Kidney Health on

Everyone hears all the time that donating a kidney or other vital organs can save another's life, but the fact is it could save the donor's life as well. One man in North Carolina learned this lesson firsthand, serving as a reminder that what comes around goes around.

Many news outlets, including the Today Show, highlighted how a pastor decided to be tested for a kidney donation that would go to a man he barely knew, because it was the right thing to do. For quite a few people, going under the knife is a scary situation, but this man had the courage to come forward and potentially save another's life. When doctors found that the two were a match, the donor went ahead with the procedure, never imagining what would happen next.

After seven hours in surgery, the pastor's wife was concerned that something was not right. Her intuition was correct, because the surgeons had found an aneurysm in the renal artery. The condition had not been discovered previously, which is actually surprisingly common, putting him in grave danger.

Had the doctors not discovered the aneurysm, the kidney donor would have been in dire risk of dying suddenly once the artery ruptured. The story serves as a solid reminder about a silent killer that often goes undetected until it is too late.    

The fact is there often are no symptoms for a renal artery aneurysm (RAA), making them particularly deadly and a scary condition. In some cases, RAA is caused by atherosclerosis, or the hardening of the arteries. Fibromuscular dysplasia (FMD), which is a disease that involves the arteries narrowing, has also been cited as a potential cause as well.

Typically, those at risk for RAA are around 40 to 60 years old, with women being statistically more susceptible to the condition. There are some lifestyle factors that also increase the likelihood of RAA, including hypertension (especially when it onsets at a later age), diabetes, high cholesterol and a habit of smoking. 

When a RAA is caught before rupturing, it often is when doctors are imaging the area for another condition. If left alone, the aneurysm will usually burst around the time it reaches about two centimeters in diameter, which is why repairing the damage is necessary.

With a smaller RAA, doctors might choose to simply observe the condition for signs of growth or health conditions triggered by it. Once it grows larger, the patient is/might become pregnant, or if the condition is causing kidney ischemia (cutting off necessary blood flow to the kidney tissue) a surgical treatment might be in order.

The procedure must be performed in a hospital, often with urology and vascular surgeons doing the work. Most people spend about three to five days in the hospital recovering, then must take it easy for about a month before returning to life as normal.

In some rare cases, the condition can be treated with a minimally invasive medical procedure, which only requires a single day in the hospital and about a week of recovery at home.

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