500 people have now donated a kidney to a stranger

21 September 2016

More than 500 people have helped save the life of stranger by becoming a living kidney donor, NHS Blood and Transplant announces.

Changes in the law a decade ago made it possible for individuals to become living donors to people in need of a transplant whom they do not know and have never met. This form of living donation is known as non-directed altruistic donation.*

NHS Blood and Transplant and partner charities are now calling for more people to consider saving lives by donating to a stranger.

Lisa Burnapp, Lead Nurse for Living Donation at NHS Blood and Transplant said: “Nearly three hundred people died waiting for a kidney transplant last year.

“Living donation is highly successful, and hundreds of people have had their lives saved and transformed in reaching this milestone over the past decade, thanks to the incredible generosity of these donors.”

Valerie Noble, aged 57, from Bexley Heath in Kent, became the 501st altruistic kidney donor. She donated through the Royal London Hospital, after being inspired by a documentary about organ donation.

“It was so sad to watch. I just thought I could help someone,” said Valerie, a self-employed interior decorator, and a mum of two daughters. “I thought ‘I have lived my life, I still have two functioning kidneys, and I could give one away’. The team at the Royal London looked after me so well and my good health was paramount to them.”

Valerie donated to a man she has never met and she was told the transplant was a success. She was discharged from hospital after three days and felt she was back to normal after two weeks.

She added: "I just hope it gives the recipient a new lease of life. In the hospital were three young women, one was very ill and waiting for a pancreas and kidney transplant, and the others had kidney infections. It was so sad it made me even more determined to go ahead.”

Most kidney transplant patients receive an organ from a deceased donor but a shortage of deceased organ donors, means many people do not receive the life-saving transplant they need.

Altruistic living donors do not have a recipient in mind but volunteer to donate a kidney to someone who is need of a transplant.

They undergo several months of physical and psychological tests at their local transplant centre to ensure they are able to safely donate and to confirm which recipients would a suitable match. Potential recipients are identified by NHS Blood and Transplant and the transplants are performed by hospital transplant units.

Altruistic donors are especially valuable because they can generate transplant chains, where up to three kidney transplants are triggered thanks to the generosity of one stranger.**

Last year, 83 altruistic donors donated a kidney to a patient. Of these donations, 25 went into an altruistic donor chain. The chains together enabled transplants for 60 adult and three paediatric patients. That compares to 17 donations into chains and 34 transplants during the previous financial year, before long three way chains were introduced.

Lisa Burnapp added: “Through donor chains, up to three can people benefit from a single donation because it can trigger a chain of transplants. The more people who are willing to consider donating in this way, the more kidneys there are available to help everyone waiting for a transplant.” **

Katie Ledger from Worcester who now lives in Gloucester,aged 29, received an altruistic kidney donation from an anonymous stranger in 2014.

Before the transplant, she kept her illness a secret for almost eight years, before revealing the news in a Facebook post. She was diagnosed aged 19 after blood tests following back pain and nose bleeds.

Katie said: “I never told anyone apart from my immediate family about my dialysis or that I had end stage renal failure. When I put the post on Facebook the responses were of shock and congratulations.

“I didn't tell want to tell anyone because I didn’t want any pity or special treatment. I didn't want to lose that feeling of normality at work or out with friends.

“I thank my donor every day for my gift of life. It's my goal to not waste the gift of life I was given.”

Carl Pinder was inspired to become an altruistic kidney donor after seeing a friend’s life saved by a transplant.

Carl said: “It transformed her life and that of her young family, and I thought, ‘I can do it for someone, why shouldn’t I do it?’ I felt I was at a time in my life when I could look to help other people.”

Carl, 59, a postman from Oxford, donated his kidney in 2016, and his donation started a two way chain.

“I was proud to get the call about the operation date and it was emotional because I thought ‘the recipient will be getting their call at the same point’,” said Carl.

After surgery, he was gently jogging in three weeks, back in work on light duties after four weeks and pretty well recovered after six weeks.

He had a letter from the recipient expressing their thanks.

Carl said: “It was a life affirming experience. If I had a third kidney I would happily do it again.”

During 2015/16, 282 people died while on the active or suspended waiting lists for a kidney or a kidney and pancreas transplant. This includes people who died within one year of removal from the list due to deteriorating health.

Bob Wiggins, Chair of charity Give a Kidney, which aims to raise awareness of non-directed kidney donation, said: "When the first non-directed donors came forward around 10 years ago, many medical professionals thought there would just be a handful of people willing to donate in this way, so reaching 500 is a significant milestone worth celebrating. As a result of these 500 people, many hundreds of lives have been changed for the better and, not only that, together they have already saved the NHS an estimated £30m over the cost of keeping the recipients on dialysis treatment.”

Fiona Loud, Policy Director at the British Kidney Patient Association, said: “The generosity of living donors is absolutely fantastic; we and the patients we support are very grateful for the gift of life which organ donation gives. The altruistic programme has transformed lives by giving more kidney patients the chance of a transplant and we are delighted that this important milestone has been reached. We hope it will continue to encourage more living donors and more kidney transplants.”

• For information on becoming an altruistic kidney donor, contact your local kidney transplant centre.

• To register your commitment to donating your organs in death, register online or call 0300 123 23 23. Share your decision with your friends using #YesIDonate


*Until September 2006 living donation was limited to direct exchanges between family members and friends. Changes in the law that year - through the Human Tissue Act - allowed the introduction of donor sharing scheme and non-directed altruistic donation. Hospitals and the Human Tissue Authority carefully assess all donors and donation only goes ahead if it safe to do so. There is a small risk to donors. Living donation is well regulated and potential donors are thoroughly screened.

** An altruistic kidney donor can choose to donate his or her kidney to a patient in the UK living kidney sharing scheme.

Their recipient will be registered in the scheme with a donor, usually a friend or relative, who cannot donate directly to him/her - usually because the pair are incompatible by blood group or HLA (tissue) type or would prefer a closer HLA match to one another.

The donor for recipient one will then donate to recipient two and, in longer chains, in turn, the donor for recipient two donates to a person on the national transplant waiting list.

This means the original altruistic donor’s gift creates the opportunity for up to three transplants. Organs for transplant need to be compatible by blood group and HLA (tissue) type to have the best chance of success.


For interviews with case studies and spokespeople, please contact Stephen Bailey in the NHS Blood and Transplant press office on 0151 268 7017 or via Stephen.bailey@nhsbt.nhs.uk

The NHS Blood and Transplant press office can also be contacted on 01923 367600 or pressoffice@nhsbt.nhs.uk

For out of hours enquiries please call NHS Blood and Transplant’s on call press officer on 0117 969 2444.

Notes to editors

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) is a joint England and Wales Special Health Authority. Its remit includes the provision of a reliable, efficient supply of blood and associated services to the NHS in England and North Wales. It is also the organ donor organisation for the whole of the UK and is responsible for matching and allocating donated organs.

As of September 6, 2016, there have been 509 altruistic kidney donations and transplants.

As of Friday, September 3, 2016, there are 6,605 people on the transplant waiting list, including 5,338 people who are waiting for a kidney transplant, or a combined kidney and pancreas transplant.

There were 83 altruistic kidney donations during the 2015/16 financial year, representing 8% of all living kidney donations. There were 107 altruistic kidney donations during the 2014/15 financial year.

In the financial year 2015/2016, a total of 1,035 living kidney donor transplants were performed in the UK, which represents 32% of the total kidney transplant programme.

Since 2009, NHS Blood and Transplant has given specially designed silver pins to recognise the contribution of living donors.

It is quick and easy to join the NHS Organ Donor Register. Visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk or contact our 24 hour a day donor line - 0300 123 23 23.

The Organ Donor Register records your decision on whether you want to donate your organs and/or tissue after your death to save and improve the lives of others. It is used by authorised medical staff to establish whether someone has registered an organ donation decision.

Letting your family know your organ donation decision will make it much easier for them to support what you want.

Every day across the UK around three people who could have benefited from a transplant die because there aren’t enough organ donors. We need more people to agree to organ donation

Anyone can join the NHS Organ Donor Register, age and medical conditions are not necessarily a barrier to donation.

One donor can save or transform up to nine lives through organ donation and transform even more by donating tissue.