Kidney Paired Donation program hits 1,000 transplant milestone

MAY 23, 2023 (Winnipeg, MB) – One thousand patients in Canada have received kidney transplants thanks to the kidney exchange program led by Canadian Blood Services, in collaboration with Transplant Manitoba – Gift of Life and other living donation and transplant programs across Canada.

These transplants, facilitated through the Kidney Paired Donation (KPD) program, represent 1,000 people whose lives have been saved or forever changed by the gift of organ donation. The KPD program connects living donor programs across the country, enabling them to achieve together what no jurisdiction can do exclusively on its own.

“This achievement is a testament to the collaborative efforts of living donation and transplant programs, health-care professionals, and most importantly the generosity of living donors who made the selfless decision to donate their kidney for a loved one or a stranger,” said Dr. Graham Sher, Canadian Blood Services’ chief executive officer.

“As a physician, it is a privilege to work with living kidney donors and to be part of the unique opportunity to offer health and wellness to another individual through living donation,” said Dr. Leroy Storsley, medical director of Manitoba’s Living Kidney Donor Program at HSC Winnipeg. “Realizing this life-changing goal requires a donor willing to put trust in us as a team and it is an honour to walk with them during the journey.”

Launched in 2009 by Canadian Blood Services, the national KPD program matches suitable living donors to recipients across Canada. The program offers living kidney donors the possibility of helping someone they know, or even someone they don’t, receive a kidney transplant, even if they are not a match to the person they are trying to help.

Using a sophisticated matching algorithm, the program identifies compatible transplant opportunities created through chains of paired donations from otherwise incompatible pairs. These chains are also made possible thanks to non-directed anonymous donors (willing living donors without a specific intended recipient).

“This program has saved or improved the lives of 1,000 people, many who may not have otherwise received a transplant, or would have waited longer for a transplant from a deceased donor,” said Sher.

A milestone made possible thanks to living donors

The success of the KPD program is due to the selflessness of hundreds of individuals who stepped
forward to be living organ donors. In addition to the altruistic anonymous donors who make these kidney exchanges possible, reaching this milestone is a direct result of the collaborative efforts of living donation and transplant programs across Canada.

Kidney paired donation has helped recipients like Winnipegger Karen Letham, who had no idea her kidneys were failing until her birthday in 2013. “After a very high blood pressure reading, I was told to go to emergency right away. I felt fine. Kidney failure never crossed my mind,” she said.

Faced with steadily declining kidney function and in-hospital dialysis appointments, living kidney donation offered the opportunity to return to her active lifestyle. Karen’s husband Rob didn’t hesitate.

“We had two options – wait for a deceased donor kidney or try living donation,” he said.

While Rob was not a match for Karen, his health and willingness to donate made the pair eligible for KPD.

Making all the difference from coast to coast

At any given time, more than 4,000 people in Canada are waiting for an organ and 75 per cent of those waiting require a kidney. The KPD program is an example of how provincial health systems working together can improve the health of individuals beyond provincial borders and improve access to transplants for patients in Canada, no matter where they live. With all provincial living donation and transplant programs participating, the KPD program is able to identify matched donors and recipients from across Canada.

“Without this program, transplant candidates would never know they match a willing living donor in another city or province. It’s a true reflection of our commitment to help every patient, match every need and serve every Canadian,” said Sher.

Facts and stats:

• Of the 4,000 people in Canada awaiting an organ, more than 3,000 are on a wait list for kidney transplantation, hundreds die each year waiting.

• The oldest person to donate a kidney through the KPD program was 76 years old. The oldest person to receive a kidney was 84 years old. The youngest recipient was two years old.

• 182 kidneys have been shipped across Canada from donors to recipients. The farthest distance a kidney was shipped was approximately 3,965 km between Vancouver and Quebec City.

• The farthest distance a donor has travelled to donate a kidney is from Corner Brook, Nfld. to Vancouver, B.C.

• 220 non-directed anonymous donors (NDADs) have helped 681 people receive a kidney transplant by donating through the program.

• 246 patients have received a transplant through the KPD program without ever having to start dialysis.

• A living donor kidney transplant lasts, on average, 21 years, compared to 11 years for a deceased donor kidney transplant.  

You can make all the difference. Learn more about living donation and the KPD program by visiting our website.