If you could donate one of your kidneys, with half the downtime and a fraction of the pain- would you? People waiting for a life-changing donation hope so.

“There are really about 125,000 Americans waiting for an organ transplant, of those 95,000 are waiting for a kidney. Unfortunately our number of donors has not risen at the same rate as our waiting list for recipients,” says Barbara Miller, director of kidney transplant with Lee Memorial Health System.

To make the process less traumatic the renal transplant team at Gulf Coast Medical Center is taking a different approach, a laparoscopic approach, to encourage live donors.

“Removing the kidney laparoscopically does not create a better kidney; it just increases the amount of people that are willing to donate their kidneys,” says Dr. Barry Blitz, laparoscopic surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

Compare it to the traditional donor operation.

“An incision is made just below the ribs, sometimes the ribs taken out. There’s a certain incision that’s made and you are able to identify the kidney and remove it with both hands,” says Dr. Blitz.

A laparoscopic kidney removal uses poke holes to insert a camera and cutting tools through tube-like ports in the belly.

“Your job as a surgeon is to make a large enough space and a large enough incision so you’re not stretching the kidney, fracturing it and breaking it as it comes out. What’s important is to make sure that you have the kidney completely prepared, that you know all the different vasculature that’s present before you go in,” says Dr. Blitz.

Data shows a kidney removed laparoscopically functions just as well as one taken through the traditional route. While the recipient is left with a new kidney- the donor has barely a lasting impression.

“It’s very possible that you can end up having a three inch incision in the bikini line- can’t be seen. About a one-inch incision in the belly button, that can’t be seen. And one or two very small incisions in abdomen would be the only external evidence,” says Dr. Blitz.

“Our obligation in working up a potential donor for transplant is to make sure that we are doing them no harm,” says Miller.

The first laparoscopic transplant in Southwest Florida was performed in December, opening a new doorway to donation.

View More Health Matters video segments at leememorial.org/healthmatters/

Lee Memorial Health System in Fort Myers, FL is the largest network of medical care facilities in Southwest Florida and is highly respected for its expertise, innovation and quality of care. For nearly a century, we’ve been providing our community with everything from primary care treatment to highly specialized care services and robotic assisted surgeries.

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