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Less-Invasive Procedure Brings More Kidney Donations

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April 11, 2000 (Lake Worth, Fla.) -- Kidney donation is one of the few ways a living person can give an organ to someone else for transplant, but it used to require a 10-inch incision and a six-week recovery time. A procedure called laparoscopic nephrectomy has made kidney donation easier, and a new study shows that once people find out about it, they are more eager to give.

Further, the study from the University of Maryland Medical Center shows that people who need transplants find it easier to ask friends or loved ones to sacrifice a kidney when it no longer means losing many weeks of work for recuperation.

In the new procedure, surgeons remove the kidney through a small incision. Not only is this method less painful than the traditional method, the hospital stay is usually two to four days (as compared to six), and the scar it leaves is only about two inches long. Patients are back to normal activity within two weeks, the study authors write.

"We believe that this less invasive approach will have a tremendous impact for thousands of people who need a kidney transplant. More than 44,000 people are on a waiting list nationwide, " researcher Steven Bartlett, MD, says in a statement describing the technique. "The waiting list grows by around 17% each year, and that is why living donors are so necessary.

Bartlett is professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of transplant surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center, in Baltimore. Researchers at the medical center compared transplant rates before and after it began offering the laparoscopic technique, and found that the percentage of kidney patients who received a transplant from a living donor went from 12% to 25%.

Bartlett attributed the increase in donations not only to the new technique, but to a strong educational effort to inform potential donors and recipients about it

"The educational program and the less-invasive method of donating a kidney have more than doubled the chance that a patient with kidney failure today will receive a transplant from a friend or loved one, compared to just a few years ago," he says.

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