Dhaka, Bangladesh
Online organs

Off the track

Online organs

Eleven-year-old Matthew Pietrzyk can now swim, run, have a bath and eat chocolate, all impossible before his kidney transplant. But he might still be on the waiting list, enduring 12 hours of dialysis each day, if his mother, Nicola, had not run a Facebook campaign to find him a living donor. Matthew is one of a number of UK patients who have bypassed the traditional NHS system of organ allocation, instead harnessing the power of the internet to find their own. Transplant doctors fear this development could result in an unsavoury competition to attract donors online, in what some have called an “organ beauty pageant”. And they worry that it rips up the traditional health service ethos of equal access to treatment for all. Consultant nephrologist Dr Adnan Sharif, from Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, says: “Somebody who is well-to-do, a professional, will be very good at promoting themselves,” whereas poorer patients, perhaps from minority ethnic communities, will not have the same opportunities. But Matthew’s mother is unrepentant. “I’m not going to lie, I think on Matthew’s side was the fact he was a child,” she says. “In all walks of life, we use things to our advantage. “If it meant that he didn’t have to spend his life on dialysis, then I’d take it - I don’t care.” There are 28,000 people on dialysis in the UK. Some 5,000 patients are on the national waiting list for an organ transplant from a dead donor. There is a permanent shortage of such kidneys. But there is another option; they may get a kidney from a living donor, because most of us can live healthily with just one. Living donors now make up a third of all kidney transplants in the UK. Some are donated anonymously through a very successful NHS scheme. But social media campaigns such as Matthew’s can bring dozens of would-be donors to be tissue-tested for just one patient, squeezing resources. Sue Moore, the lead NHS living donor coordinator in Birmingham, says: “You’d get people call out of the blue, and it was quite overwhelming really.” However, since Matthew’s appeal was launched in 2013, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the biggest renal centre in Europe, has adjusted to handling such pressures. Matthew’s mother argues publicity for his campaign increased awareness of kidney donation.

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