Freakonomics Podcast Interview

(our story starts around 7 minutes in)


Wednesday, February 17, 2016 

I donated my kidney to a stranger on September 22, 2015. What I learned in the process of donation has motivated me to help others who are in need of a kidney to find a donor. This blog is part of the effort I have named Donor to Donor, where a past donor is matched with a patient in need of a kidney transplant and charged with helping that patient to find a suitable donor.

I will report what I have learned about the lives of people who are living with kidney failure, the facts and statistics associated with kidney donation and transplants, my communication with other donors and recipients, and my ongoing efforts to help alleviate the massive disparity between people in need of a kidney and the number of kidneys available through both living and deceased donors.

Some Background:

My wife and I were driving in our car in May, 2015 and listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Freakonomics. The podcast was about Alvin Roth, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for creating a model to trade indivisible objects without using money. Professor Roth was thinking about houses when he did this work, but it turns out that the model works very well for kidney transplants. It can be used to create something called a "kidney chain", whereby a donor can initiate multiple transplants between patients and donors by matching pairs of willing donor-recipients who are incompatible with other similar pairs. There is a good discussion of paired exchanges and the kidney chain here. The operative principle is that a kidney chain requires what is called an "altruistic" or "non-directed" donor to initiate. In other words, someone who is willing to donate to a stranger.

Anyone who is engaged in commerce for a living understands the concept of leverage. Leverage in business can accentuate both gains and losses, and it was the idea of leverage that appealed to me as I listened to the podcast. We are born with two kidneys and we need only one to function normally. If I could leverage my spare kidney to save multiple lives, that was, for me, a compelling reason to investigate whether I could qualify as a donor.

Ned Brooks, Donor to Donor

I surfed the net in the usual fashion. The National Kidney Registry caught my attention and I contacted Joe Sinacore there, a straight shooter who spent time with me on the phone and provided additional information and resources. I decided to focus on New York Presbyterian Hospital by virtue of proximity and the number of these operations they do each year. My primary goal was to identify an organization that does the highest volume with a great safety record.

The folks at New York Presbyterian put me through a series of interviews and a lot of testing to determine if I was eligible to donate. I am a 65 year old male in very good health, and my age did not disqualify me. After blood tests and cat scans and ultrasounds, I was cleared to donate. I knew nothing about my recipient until a day or two before the operation, when I learned that she is a 37 year old mother of young children, living in the Denver area. The operation itself was straightforward and, as these things go, thoroughly routine. My surgeon, Dr. Joseph Del Pizzo, does many of these transplants and he was terrific. I will describe the testing, operation and recovery in more detail at a later date.

When my kidney landed in Denver and made its way to the OR at Denver Hospital, the father of my recipient donated his kidney, which traveled to Hartford. That recipient's loved one's kidney went to another patient in Hartford, and the chain ended there.