ZEELAND, Mich. — When it comes to transplants, kidneys are the most common organ Michiganders wait for. The average wait time, though, is well above the national average.
Experts said there simply aren't enough kidneys to meet the need. On World Kidney Day, Thursday, they wanted to change that narrative.
Miguel Munoz, a 37-year-old Zeeland man, knows firsthand what it's like to wait for a kidney.
“It was like being in purgatory, just not knowing anything," he told FOX 17 Thursday. "The only thing that was for sure was I was going to do dialysis, either tonight or the following night.”
Munoz suffered from kidney failure, which was the result of a separate transplant surgery he had in 2018 to fix an aortic aneurism. Munoz was hooked up to dialysis four days a week for three and a half years.
Waiting, and waiting, until Aug. 5, 2021.
“I got the call at about 5:30 in the morning," said Munoz. "They said, ‘Come to the hospital. We have a match for you.’”
Munoz's experience was just a small example of a larger issue in Michigan. The average wait time for a kidney transplant in America is three to five years, but in Michigan, it's seven.
Bruce Nicely, vice president of clinical pperations for Gift of Life Michigan, said a reason for that is because kidneys are in high demand.
Gift of Life reports there are 2,500 people waiting for an organ transplant in our state. Rounding out most of that list alone are kidneys, with 2,073 people living in limbo.
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Gift of Life had 429 deceased organ donors last year. Based on the numbers, even if every one of those could donate two kidneys, they wouldn't even be able to get halfway through the wait list.
However, the most surprising statistic of all is that, of the five million people registered to be an organ donor in Michigan, only one half of one percent will qualify after death, according to Nicely.
“Typically, the patient has to have succumbed to a neurological injury or an aftermath of something else that leads to a neurological compromise, maintained on a ventilator," said Nicely. "So, someone who dies in a car accident is not likely to be an organ donor.”
As Nicely explained, there seems to be a misconception about transplants, especially with kidneys. People don't have to die to be able to donate.
"Most of us, though, just don't probably think about it, or didn't even know it's a thing," Nicely told FOX 17. "Awareness that such programs exist helps a lot of people look into it and decide, 'This is something I want to do.'"
Munoz and his wife knew it was something they wanted to do as soon as he received his own transplant.
“Ever since we got put on the donor list for me to receive a kidney, we both registered as donors," Munoz said. "You have to pay it forward. I was given the gift of a new life. I’d hope that one day some part of me could give someone else a new lease on life.”
If you'd like to see a list of everyone in the country who needs a transplant, visit unos.org. If you'd like to sign up to be a donor, you can visit golm.org. For more information, head to organdonor.gov.
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