Appeal on Facebook for a kidney

Taco van der EbThomas Haighton: “Ethical objections are becoming irrelevant.

By Petra Meijer

The life of Leiden student Thomas Haighton has been on hold for two years while he waits for a donor, so now he’s taking control by appealing to Facebook for a new kidney: “Staying alive is more important than doing the right thing.”

“I’d been toying with the idea of doing something for some time now”, says Thomas Haighton (30) at his apartment in The Hague. “Last week, I saw Erardo Kea, a kidney patient, on a Dutch television show. He had appealed to Facebook and had been offered 62 kidneys in a very short space of time. That’s when I made up my mind: nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Haighton launched his own Facebook campaign: “Looking for a kidney donor”. “I’m getting increasingly desperate”, his first status reports. “I’m afraid it’s going to be too late.”

The group was “liked” more than a hundred times within a week, but he still hasn’t found a kidney. “Kea has two young children and people can identify with him more easily. My peers aren’t perhaps as inclined to give away a kidney – you never know whether you might be taken ill yourself at some stage, or whether you’ll have a child who’ll need one.”

Nonetheless, the number of altruistic kidney donations, donated selflessly by a living person to an unknown recipient, is increasing. “There are about 25 to 30 living donations a year”, Willij Zuidema, the staff advisor for kidney transplants at the Erasmus Medical Centre, confirms. “The risks are similar to those of any other surgery. It is relatively safe; otherwise we wouldn’t use living donors. Donors can live to the same age, with the same quality of life, as they would have done with two kidneys. And you can still party or run a marathon on one kidney.”

Haighton has been a kidney patient all his life. “I’ve already had two transplants. I was given a kidney by an anonymous deceased donor when I was thirteen, which lasted seven good years. When I was 21, my father donated a kidney and that one lasted seven years too. My father is very ill and lives in a care home; he has Huntingdon’s disease. He wants to commit euthanasia but he’s waiting to see me recover. Unfortunately, I can’t visit him very often because I need dialysis treatment three times a week. It doesn’t take much time, but I’m really tired afterwards.”

The walls of his apartment are adorned with electric guitars; mixing consoles are piled high on his desk and his cupboards are full of old LPs. “I read sonology at the Academy of Music. I used to love going to concerts and I regularly performed. I would go out and collect field recordings often too.”

He lacks the energy to do that kind of thing nowadays. “I sometimes go to classical or jazz concerts where I can sit quietly. I love to travel but now I’m restricted by the dialysis treatments and my strict diet that controls fluid.”

Haighton is busy finishing off his master’s in Media Technology at Leiden University, but that is not progressing as rapidly as he would like either, due to his illness.

He’s been on the waiting list for two years, along with about seven hundred other patients. The average waiting time is four years. “I’ve already had two kidney transplants, so my body has a lot of antibodies. New technologies mean they can transplant from one blood type to another or remove the antibodies, but not both.” That’s why it would be best if he could find a donor with the same blood type: B+. “That has the best chance of success, because they can remove my antibodies. I could try another blood type but the chances that the antibodies match up are small.”

When his mother proved to have the wrong blood type, Haighton decided to ask his five best friends. “It wasn’t easy and I was afraid of their reactions, but luckily they understood. Two reported to the hospital: one proved a poor match while the other gave way to pressure from his family and called it off.”

That’s why he made the appeal on Facebook. He was offered a kidney almost immediately – for 10,000 Euros. “It’s illegal: no doctor would ever help. It’s only allowed in Iran. Maybe I would consider it in a year’s time, when ethical objections start becoming irrelevant. Staying alive becomes more important than doing the right thing.”

Anyway, he’s not daunted by the criticism caused by Erardo Kea’s online quest. Someone wrote on Facebook: “A scandal beyond words! So selfish! Get in line like everyone else!” The television show feared a “show for beautiful people” and the Dutch Kidney Foundation was worried too. Kea argued that the number of donors would rise if patients “had a face”. Haighton, too, is fed up of waiting around helplessly. “People are dying. I see it at the dialysis treatments: suddenly someone stops turning up. Your physical condition deteriorates while you are on the waiting list and before long your body can’t handle a transplant.”

He hopes that the Netherlands will switch to a system that makes it standard for people to donate organs when they die, unless they object. “But people shouldn’t wait for that – register as a donor right away.”

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