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Altruistic kidney donor meets stranger recipient in ‘UK first’

A donor who gave a kidney to a stranger has met him for the first time today.

Issue date: 14 December 2007

A donor who gave a kidney to a stranger has met him for the first time today.

Barbara Ryder, a nurse from Cornwall, is one of four people in the UK who have been approved by the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) to make a non-directed altruistic kidney donation – also known as stranger donation. Her kidney was transplanted into Andy Loudon, a retired carpenter from Bedfordshire who had been receiving dialysis for two years.

“You do want to give something back to society as you get older,” said Barbara, who is 59 and a grandmother. “With this kind of donation, you get a great feeling from the joy of giving. It’s better than Christmas. You get a lot more fun and happiness by giving something that can change a life.

“I think I’ve been very fortunate, and grew up with parents who tried to help others. My mother died very young, and she had kidney problems. Now I have a beautiful grandson. When people approach 60 I think that they do start thinking ‘I have been lucky.’ I thought that giving away a kidney was something I could do to help someone else.”

Andy, 68, originally from Scotland, added: “My father had polycystic kidneys and died at 48. His father died at 38 of the same disease, and since I was diagnosed with the same genetic problem, I’ve been living on borrowed time.

“What Barbara has done for me really is amazing. I’ve felt overwhelmed and honoured by what she’s done, and it’s restored my faith in human nature. The operation’s given me my life back and given me freedom.”

For two years, Andy underwent dialysis three times a week which limited what he could do. The new kidney now allows him to travel freely, and visit his daughter in Scotland. Andy and his wife Hilary are planning a trip to Florida next year.  

Andy has benefited from a new form of donation that has been allowed thanks to new systems for organ donation set up by the HTA. These give more flexibility in who can donate to whom, whilst ensuring that key ethical principles are maintained.

Before the HTA was established, organ donations from living people could only be made to people who were related or who had close personal relationships or ties.

Shirley Harrison, Chair of the HTA, said: “This is a truly selfless act and a magnificent gift. Barbara is a shining example to us all of what altruism means in practice. I’m delighted that she and Andy have ‘gone public’ so that people can see what it means to donate an organ in this way.”

The HTA is responsible for approving all organ transplants from living donors through an independent assessment process. All donors and recipients have to be assessed by an Independent Assessor (IA) who acts independently on behalf of the donor. The IA ensures that the donor fully understands what donation involves, is not under any pressure to donate, and gives consent freely and voluntarily. Non-directed altruistic donations are then considered for approval by a panel of Authority members because it is a novel form of donation.

Adrian McNeil, Chief Executive of the HTA, said: “Since September last year, the Human Tissue Authority has approved four altruistic kidney donations. Ultimately we hope to be able to approve around 10 donations of this kind each year. We regulate all transplants from living donors in the UK, and have recently approved our 1,000th transplant – another major milestone.”

“Most organs for transplants are donated from people who have died, but every year, more people receive organs from living donors. New ways of donating organs, such as altruistic donation, provide opportunities for this figure to increase.”

Barbara and Andy will today meet for the first time before attending a press briefing at the Science Media Centre in London. Photographs of the couple will be released by the Press Association later in the day.

Notes to editors

 1. The HTA was established on 1 April 2005 to implement the Human Tissue Act (HT Act). The HT Act requires that the HTA must approve all transplant operations involving living donors, whether they are related or unrelated to the recipient, following an independent assessment.

2. The HTA also regulates the removal, storage, use and disposal of human bodies, organs and tissue for a number of ‘Scheduled Purposes’ – such as research, transplantation, and education and training – set out in the HT Act.

3. The HT Act covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is separate legislation in Scotland – the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006 – and the HTA performs certain tasks on behalf of the Scottish Government (approval of living donation of organs and licensing of establishments storing tissue for human application).

4. As the regulator under the HT Act, the HTA is responsible for licensing a number of activities and carrying out inspections to ensure licence conditions are being met.

These activities include:

  • Anatomical examination
  • Post mortem examination
  • Removal of material from the deceased in certain circumstances
  • Storage of post mortem material
  • Storage of anatomical specimens
  • Storage of material for other purposes – e.g. for human application (transplantation) or research
  • Public display of a body or material from a deceased person

5. Establishments storing tissue for human application are regulated under the EU Tissues and Cells Directive (EUTCD) and required a licence from 7 April 2006. All other activities required a licence from 1 September 2006.

Contact information

For further information, contact Claire Bithell on 020 7211 3439 or claire.bithell@hta.gov.uk

Background briefing: how the altruistic kidney donation process works

The Human Tissue Authority (HTA) is responsible for approving all organ transplants from living donors through an independent assessment process. The HTA has set up systems to allow (non-directed) altruistic donation and paired donation.

What are altruistic and paired donations?

Non-directed altruistic donation is where a person chooses to donate an organ to someone they have never met. To date, four non-directed altruistic kidney donations have been approved by the HTA.

Paired donation is where a donor and recipient whose blood groups or tissue types are mismatched (or incompatible) are paired with another donor and recipient in the same situation. Paired and altruistic transplants will usually be of a kidney. Nearly one in three of all kidney transplants come from living donors. To date, two paired donations have been approved by the HTA.

In both of these new forms of transplants, it is important that the donor and recipient are not known to each other and that anonymity and confidentiality is maintained, at least until the transplant operation has taken place.

What has changed?

Previously, living donations could only take place between genetic relatives and people with close personal relationships (people who were not genetically related but had an emotional tie with one another, e.g. spouses, partners). The introduction of a system by the HTA to allow paired and altruistic organ donation from living donors allows more flexibility in who can donate to whom so that more people can benefit from a living-donor transplant.

What is the role of the HTA in living-donor transplants?

  • All donors and recipients have to be assessed by an Independent Assessor (IA), trained and accredited by the HTA, who acts independently on behalf of the donor. The IA ensures that the donor fully understands what donation involves, is not under any pressure to donate, and gives consent freely and voluntarily. More than 140 IAs have been trained and accredited by the HTA to assess all living-donor transplants and make recommendations to the HTA regarding whether the donation should proceed. Most IAs are employed by NHS Trusts.
  • The IA will submit a detailed assessment and recommendation to the HTA who will check that the requirements of the Human Tissue Act 2004 and the HTA’s Codes of Practice have been complied with. Once they are satisfied that all these conditions have been met, donations will be approved by the HTA.  If the conditions have not been met, the donation will not be approved.
  • Approvals for routine donations, e.g. kidney donations involving ‘directed’ donations (that is, where the donor and recipient are genetically or emotionally related) are approved by the HTA Executive. A panel of Authority members approve novel or more complex cases such as paired and non-directed altruistic donations, adult to adult living liver lobe donation, and donations by children and adults who lack capacity. Average turnaround time for approvals in routine cases is two working days.
  • The HTA regulates transplants from living donors across the UK. In Scotland, this is done by agreement with the Scottish Government.

Making a non-directed altruistic kidney donation

Anyone who wishes to donate an organ, usually a kidney, to an unknown recipient, must contact their local transplant centre to be assessed. If a person is assessed as a suitable donor and is still willing to go ahead, their name will be put forward to a national allocation scheme and then matched to a suitable person. This works in the same way that organs from people who have died are matched to patients on the waiting list.

A list of transplant centres is available on the UK Transplant website.