SAN ANTONIO — The average wait for a kidney transplant is six to eight years. Many patients spend that time on dialysis and not all make it. 

Hundreds of people have volunteered to donate a kidney or liver to a loved one at who needed a transplant University Hospital's Transplant Center.

"Even though I've been doing this for years every time I meet a donor who comes forward I thank them," said Dr. Elizabeth Thomas, a University Health System transplant surgeon and associate professor of surgery at UT Health San Antonio. She said becoming a living donor is one of the most generous things a person can do. Dr. Thomas added, "I consider them heroes and I don't take that lightly. I literally consider them heroes. They are saving a life."

Let's say you want to donate a kidney to your mother who is in need of one, but you aren't compatible. That's where the organ exchange comes in. There can be one, two, or more donors in the same situation where they aren't compatible with their recipients. But because you may be compatible with one of the other recipients, and one of the other donors may be compatible with your mother, and another donor/recipient pair are compatible, instead of zero organ donations, there are three successful living donations.

But there really is no limit to the numbers of people involved. Dr. Thomas said,
"There have been circumstances in the country where there have been 15 pairs involved."

There are several benefits to being a living donor. First, there is less time waiting for a transplant. Instead of having to wait at least six years for a kidney, the donation can happen much faster, giving a better chance for survival. 

Second, because the living donor is screened and healthy, the quality of the organ is much better. And because the living donor and recipient are better matched, the organ spends less "cold time" out of the body, resulting in a better transplant.

"They are courageous and brave enough to say, 'I want to help somebody, and this is how I can do it,'" Dr. Thomas said.

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