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Give the Gift of Life: Register as An Organ Donor

This Organ Transplant Month, Affinity Health highlights how organ transplants change lives.


At any moment in South Africa, about 4 300 people are waiting for organ donations. Often these individuals need new livers, kidneys, lungs, or hearts. But organ donors are in scarce supply. That is not a South African phenomenon. Many nations worldwide are unable to meet the demand for organ donors.

How Long Does it Take to Get an Organ?

Twenty-two years ago, doctors diagnosed Cristina with Post-Streptococcal Glomerulonephritis (PSGN). PSGN is a rare kidney disease that can develop after group A strep infections.


“In my case, I had had an upper respiratory infection a few weeks before my kidneys failed. The doctors believe that was the cause of my sudden kidney failure when I was 13,” says Cristina.


“My main symptom was sudden blurred eye vision. A visit to the optometrist showed nothing wrong with my eyes. Tests revealed slight elevation in my blood pressure. But my creatinine was almost double the normal range.


She advised we run more blood tests the following morning after fasting. Again, they remained elevated. Medication stabilised my levels. But a couple of days later, I had an excruciating headache, and my blurred vision worsened. A trip to casualty revealed my blood pressure was high. The fact that I was not in a coma shocked the doctors.”


Cristina went into hospital for more blood tests, but things did not improve. A few days later, the kidneys had completely shut down. The toxins in her blood were alarming, so the only way forward was to start haemodialysis. She was on the kidney donor list. The facility only found a match for me 20 years later.


“I had my kidney transplant on 5 December 1999. The donor was a 21-year-old man who had died in a motorcycle accident. His family noted on the system that they did not want contact from the organ donor recipients. I am grateful everyday for the greatest gift he has given me, a second chance at life,” says Cristina.


Cristina adds that her transplant differed from other kidney transplants. It did not come from a living donor. At first her mother tried to see if she could give Cristina one of her kidneys. It involved a lot of testing that spanned over six weeks. Unfortunately, the tests revealed she was not a compatible match.

Three factors determine if a transplant will be successful:
  • Blood Type
  • Tissue Type
  • Cross Matching

What Happens After An Organ Transplant?

When I got my call that they found a donor match, I rushed to hospital. Blood tests ensured I was in good health. A pre-transplant haemodialysis session checked that my blood was as toxin-free as possible. Chances were high for the surgery to succeed,” says Cristina.


“My first few days after the transplant were challenging. My kidney was not working immediately. I resembled something like a bloated hippo with fluid retention and unable to pass urine.


They performed a biopsy on the new kidney. All tests showed that the kidney was alive. It needed to wake up and start working. To not overload the new kidney, the doctors had me do a few more haemodialysis sessions.”


Unfortunately, the kidney did not start working immediately.


“Rule of thumb is that a kidney can only be on ice for 48 hours before it becomes ineffective. I received mine in the last remaining hours of that period. It took 20 days to start working. But it was the best Christmas present I have ever received,” she says.


What lifestyle changes did Cristina have to make following the kidney transplant?


“After the transplant, my immune system was weaker. I had to learn to avoid sick people. I had to maintain a healthy diet, exercise, go for regular check-ups. I had to learn to listen to my body,” says Cristina.


“It was vital to ensure that my body did not reject the transplant. So, one of the most fundamental things I had to do was to remember and acknowledge that this disease is with me for life. A kidney transplant is not a cure. It is a treatment.


Nonetheless, one can maintain the longevity of a transplant.


Never miss taking the chronic medication. Trust your team to guide and support you. Regular blood testing and check-ups with your nephrologist are crucial. They determine how the transplanted kidney is coping.”


Cristina says she has suffered a few health scares since the transplant. A common cold would turn into bronchitis and pneumonia within a day of initial symptoms. Stomach bugs or food poisoning required immediate visits to hospitals. Intravenous antibiotics ensure quick and effective treatment.


“To anyone thinking of becoming an organ donor, I, for one, thank you. It is the most selfless, life-changing gift you can give a fellow human being. Be it to someone you know if you are to become a living donor or a stranger upon your death. What a gift! I have had my gift for over two decades, and my kidney is strong and healthy. I got a second chance to live.


I got to enjoy my teenage years, complete my studies and travel. I became a mother to a beautiful 12-year-old daughter. All because a young man and his family believed someone deserved another chance. I am living life to the fullest.”

Who Can Be An Organ Donor?

Anyone, regardless of age, can become an organ donor. Anyone under the age of 18 must have parental or guardian permission. Circumstances prohibiting organ donation include:

  • HIV infection
  • Active cancer spread
  • Severe infection
Does the Blood and Tissue Type Need to Match Mine?

It is easier to do an organ transplant if the donor and recipient are compatible. The transplant team will administer a battery of tests. That establishes if your blood and tissue types match the recipient.

Is There Any Cost Involved In Signing Up As An Organ Donor?

No. Signing up to be an organ/tissue donor costs nothing.

How Do I Sign Up To Become An Organ Donor?

Contact the Organ Donor Foundation of South Africa (ODF).

Tel: 0800 22 66 11 (toll free).

If I Give An Organ, Would I Have Future Health Issues?

Some donated organs are in whole or in part without long-term health consequences. You can donate a kidney, pancreas, intestine, liver, or lung. Your body will compensate for the organ or organ component that is absent.


As for kidneys, there is some evidence that kidney donors are more likely to suffer:

  • Hypertension
  • Preeclampsia
  • Chronic renal disease


But data on this is scarce and inconsistent. If donating an organ would pose a short- or long-term risk to your health, you would be unable to do so.

How Do I Get An Organ Donor Bracelet, Necklace, or Disk?

Medic Alert and Elixir Medical Shields provide these items. These items are not available at the Organ Donor Foundation.

For more information, please contact:

Medic Alert:

021 425 7328

0861 112 979

Elixir Medical Shields:

0861 115 178

Learn More: 5 Tips to Take Care of Your Kidneys

About Affinity Health

Affinity Health is the leading provider of affordable medical insurance in South Africa. Members enjoy access to a network of healthcare providers. We have designed healthcare products to protect you and your family when it matters the most. We strive to give our clients peace of mind and the highest standard of service. For more information, follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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