What Makes a Person Decide to Donate His Kidney to a Stranger? | Ned Brooks | TEDxNatick

What Makes a Person Decide to Donate His Kidney to a Stranger? | Ned Brooks | TEDxNatick

July 30, 2019 25 By Kailee Schamberger



I'm holding two almonds these almonds are about the size of the amygdala in your brain the amygdala is an organ with a variety of functions including emotional response and empathy if your amygdala is shriveled and underdeveloped you may be a sociopath if your amygdala is big well you may be different it's June 2015 my wife Louise and I are driving in our car I'm 65 mostly retired and a bit of a crossroads as to what to do with myself as we're driving we're listening to a podcast in this case the podcast is for economics one of my favorites the subject of the podcast is Professor Alvin Roth and his work in enabling multiple kidney patients to receive kidney transplants from living donors in a cascading chain as I'm listening to the podcast I am struck by the concept of leverage that one altruistic or non-directed donor can impact multiple patients through the donation of one wholly redundant kidney I know in that moment that I'm gonna give my kidney to a stranger it's as if I was struck by lightning but the more I think about it I realize I have a problem my wife you see my wife doesn't do hospitals she comes from Swedish Finnish stock and they simply never think about their health they are some of the toughest people around in fact whenever I'm sick I fear I'm going to be given half get and sent into the woods but I turned to her and I say Louise this is something I really want to do I don't know what to expect in response after a few moments she turns to me and says yes I know that we've been married for 33 years I know you're pretty well by now go ahead yes I get to give away my kidney so I contact the National Kidney registry I get registered at New York Presbyterian I start the process to be tested and I learn a few things kidney donation is major surgery there's no getting around that but the odds of a mate of a serious complication arising during surgery is one in 3,000 you have two kidneys combined that have four times the capacity that you need to be healthy when you donate a kidney your remaining kidney grows larger and you retain twice the capacity you need there's one other fact that curiously studies have shown that there's a measurable improvement in the quality of life of the donor I'll get back to that it seems that my instant inclination to donate my kidney is symptomatic of a certain type of individual you might find this hard to believe but as a group we are not quite normal professor Abigail Marsh of Georgetown has done extensive research on non directed donors in her research she has shown that as a group non directed donors have a significantly enlarged amygdala I've Sid spoken with a number of non directed donors and I can tell you that the epiphany that I felt was shared by virtually every one of them almost to a person that sense of I have to do I want to do this I must do this it's a common theme but it's not all together good we're the last group you want to have with you at the apocalypse we you breed be the first to be eaten and we probably offer to help with the cooking so I completed the testing and was accepted as a donor because I am Type O positive I can donate to anyone finally I'm a hot ticket now all I have to do is tell my kids we have three grown children and because they're our children I knew this would be the easy part I sent out an email explaining the plan the youngest came back first he said go for it dad good on you the oldest was considerably less enthusiastic he didn't say he wouldn't support me in this but he had a laundry list of questions and concerns we worked our way through them it was fine our middle child our daughter daddy's favorite girl our empathetic blonde who volunteers her time with the less fortunate of every stripe told me in no uncertain terms this will not happen it appears that her amygdala is not as big as I thought so we did the slow climb up the mountain I addressed your every concern until finally she said well you're going to do this anyway but I am NOT happy about it so I went to the hospital to meet with the coordinator to talk about the dates for the I'd be available for the operation I said I have a window of September 23rd to middle of November the donor looked at me and she said Ned you're all positive when I hit this button you're gonna let up computer screens across the country indeed the surgery took place on September 23rd and all went well my donation resulted in a chain of three transplants my kidney went to my recipient in Denver her father's kidney went to Hartford where the last two transplants took place as a non directed donor you don't know who's going to be receiving your kidney until after the operation and then only if both parties agree in February some five months later I was contacted by freakanomics who asked me to come in and talk about what I had done with them on their podcast for those of you who were old enough to remember the TV show I had quite a this is your life moment when halfway through the interview host Stephen Dubner announced that they were able to get Danielle my recipient on the line with us and that I would be speaking with her for the first time live during the interview that was a moment I will never forget I thought that when I donated my kidney that would be the end of it I was not prepared for the transformative power of the experience I felt afterwards as if something inside me had fundamentally changed there's a an author and a living donor herself who writes about donors and this is what she says living donors are happier I've met a lot of donors in the last five years and if I had to choose one word to describe them beyond compassionate it would be happy there's a euphoria that accompanies the active living donation which is difficult to explain without sounding a little crazy that description rings true to me and I see in other donors I've met as well so what to do with this newfound sense of well-being I knew I wanted to stay involved I spoke with a number of health care professionals and I soon learned how incredibly difficult it could be for a patient on dialysis to generate the resources necessary to mount a campaign to find a donor most of these patients have families who know the circumstances and who choose not to come forward worse when a patient asks a family member directly and that person declines you can imagine what that does to the patient's sense of self-worth add to that the difficulties of dialysis it's a procedure required three to four days a week three to four hours at a time it's physically exhausting and it's basically a form of slow death since dialysis that dialysis cannot rid the organs of toxins the way that a kidney does right now in this country they're a little over ninety nine thousand people waiting for a kidney transplant last year there were 18,000 transplants waiting times vary from hospital and region but a wait time of five to ten years is not uncommon many many people die waiting for a kidney you can see how someone in this condition could lose all hope now I know that there are not a lot of us non-directed donors out there according to the United Network for Organ Sharing in 2014 out of an adult population of two 142 million people in this country there were 183 of us to put that number in perspective that is 39 fewer that have visited the International Space Station but I also know there are a lot of you potential donors out there you know who you are the ones with two kidneys who might just now be getting the word now that number 183 does not include parens on Facebook and other social media we all know what an incredibly powerful tool social media can be for bringing people together so I got to thinking wine there's nobody who can who can talk to a potential donor as well as somebody who's already donated so why not pair a patient on dialysis with a person who was given a kidney and have that person become the patient's champion and advocate to help them find a kidney on social media so last February I started donor to donor a foundation designed to do just that we took on as our first sponsored patient Brian a 47 year old man from Connecticut we'd been on dialysis for four years we started a Facebook campaign for him it went viral and we were contacted by a beautiful woman named Moya who volunteered to give her kidney to Brian this is a picture of Moya moments before she gets wheeled in for the operation I think you'll agree this is the very definition of a nervous smile the transplant took place on June 23rd two complete strangers came together and Brian's life was transformed now we do not live in a fairy tale and we do not live happily ever after I'm sorry to tell you that in late November Brian developed pneumonia and December he died we lost a dear friend right now donor the donor is facilitating the testing of seven people who've come forward to donate to our sponsored patients and or create a kidney chain we'll continue to do this work until the folks in genetic research develop new kidneys from stem cells I'm told by my friends and that business is going to take about 10 years so while this talk has been about how a man in his 60s has opened a new and unexpected chapter in his life the specifics here don't matter what matters is this one thought that by giving a piece of yourself to others in whatever way that may have relevance to you personally can allow the rest of you to grow in new and exciting ways you might otherwise never experience thank you [Applause]