MADISON — A large number of people donated kidneys this year at the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison — and in each case it was a donation to a stranger.
It's unclear why there was a surge in kidney donations this year — 28 in all — but a staffer at the hospital has a simple theory:
“Society in general just wants to do good right now,” Leza Warnke, a UW Hospital transplant coordinator, told the Wisconsin State Journal. “We’re hurting for some ‘feel good.'"
The 28 people who donated their kidneys are a rare type of donor known as “non-directed donors” because they're willing to give to anyone, regardless of whether they know the person.
Taryn Seymour, a mother of two young children, was among the people in Wisconsin who gave a kidney to a stranger.
“I think the spirit of giving is contagious,” said Seymour, an interior designer who lives near Spring Green, Wisconsin.
UW Hospital had its first non-directed donor in 2003 and from then until 2017 there were an average of four such donors every year. Last year, the number increased to 12 before jumping to 28 this year.
Out of the 28 donors, 22 were women and six were men. Ages of donors ranged from 23 to 78.
Garet Hil, founder and CEO of the National Kidney Registry, said there were about 300 such donors nationwide this year, which still makes the act unusual.
“We don’t know what’s driving it,” Hil said. “It’s still about one in a million. These are very special people.”
Hil said UW Hospital likely had the most non-directed kidney donors in the country, but the United Network for Organ Sharing was unable to verify that.
Adam Allison, a resident of Verona, Wisconsin, also gave a kidney to someone he didn't know.
“It was more of a why-not than a why,” he explained.
When Carol Hartmann's son needed a kidney, but she was not a match. Someone else was able to donate a kidney, and that inspired the teacher from New Berlin, Wisconsin, to give a kidney someone she didn't know.
“I know what it's like to be one the waiting end of having a loved one who needs a kidney,” she said.
People like Hartmann contribute to what are known as transplant chains, where mismatched donors along with other incompatible recipients work together to find suitable donors for everyone involved.
“The gift is multiplied,” Hil said. “That's a lot of power.”