Crorepati's kidney in donor chain

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By JOHN MARY
  • Published 19.01.11
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Thiruvananthapuram, Jan. 18: An industrialist with an annual turnover of Rs 500 crore can afford a bit of philanthropy. So, it wasn’t unusual for Kochouseph Chittilappilly to want to donate towards surgery for the poor.

Except that he decided to help out someone who needs a kidney. So, he will be donating not cash but his own kidney.

He had little choice. The country faces an acute shortage of organ donors at a time kidney failure is ranked third among life-threatening diseases after heart attacks and cancers. One reason is that it’s illegal to pay the donor — so Kochouseph couldn’t have “funded” transplants.

Yesterday, therefore, the managing director of the V-Guard group of companies and amusement parks signed up with the Kidney Federation of India (KFI), Thrissur, to donate his kidney to 48-year-old Joy from Palai.

That marked the launch of a kidney chain — a novel concept in India, introduced by the KFI.

Under Indian law, a Samaritan like Kochouseph can donate a kidney only if he can prove to a government-appointed panel that the donation is free — an extremely difficult proposition that makes grant of permission rare.

A patient’s best hope, therefore, is to get a kidney from a family member who can plead the donation is based on emotional attachment. The catch is that a relative’s kidney may not be “compatible”, making it likely to be rejected by the recipient’s immune system, which leaves the patient at the mercy of racketeers.

Here’s where the KFI comes in with its kidney chain — an extension of the idea of “paired exchange” where A’s wife donates her kidney to B while B’s husband donates his to A (if each couple’s kidneys are incompatible).

So, Joy will soon get the transplant from Kochouseph; Joy’s wife Jolly will donate her kidney to one Shamsuddin; Shamsuddin’s wife Sainaba will give her kidney to John, whose mother will donate her kidney to Baiju. But Baiju couldn’t find a donor among relatives, unwittingly ending the chain.

The chain, being longer than a pair, increases the chances of each patient finding a compatible organ from among the donors.

Fr Davis Chiramel, who founded the KFI last year and has donated a kidney himself, will launch another chain soon. “Of the 150-odd callers I had till this afternoon, 10 were willing to donate. We will get them medically examined before enrolling them in the chain,” the priest said.

Fr Chiramel feels that Kochouseph’s gesture of becoming a donor will send a high-voltage message in a country where fears about kidney donation are widespread.

An affluent man, the industrialist could have funded the operations and the long rehab programmes for donors and recipients. But there’s no better precept than practice, the priest said.

Fr Chiramel had donated his kidney to C.G. Gopinath, an electrician, in September 2009 after he saw the dying patient’s search for a suitable donor was reaching nowhere. He soon floated the KFI. He hopes more and more agencies would chip in.

About 800 people per million of the population suffer from chronic kidney disease, and India’s kidney transplant requirement is 90,000 every year. But 75 per cent of willing donors cannot donate their kidneys — owing to incompatible kidneys or family discouragement, or because they are too poor to afford the treatment, rehabilitation and long layoff the donor has to undergo.