Canada's registry that helps match people in need of a kidney to living donors marked a milestone as it added residents of Quebec to the roster.
Canadian Blood Services says the Living Donor Paired Exchange now includes kidney patients and eligible donors from across Canada.
"The kidney registry is now truly national in scope," Graham Sher, CEO of Canadian Blood Services, said in an interview.
The exchange involves pairs of people - for instance, a husband and wife, or two friends - in which one person needs a kidney and another wants to donate but isn't a match.
When entered into the registry, the donor's kidney can go to someone else who's compatible and waiting for an organ, and the person in need can receive a kidney from someone else on the registry - even from another province - who's compatible.
"We [now]have all the provinces putting in pairs, Quebec included, which is just tremendous - they themselves put 15 pairs into the registry," Dr. Sher said.
"A total of 100 pairs were added onto the registry yesterday, so apparently we have something in the order of 185 registered pairs in the system."
The partnership between Canadian Blood Services and transplant programs across Canada began as a three-province pilot program in January 2009.
Other provinces joined gradually and Quebec came on board in October, making it a Canada-wide program.
"Just before yesterday, there were 57 transplants already performed, and what's important about these, these are transplants on people who otherwise would not have found a kidney donor," Dr. Sher said.
"Some of these are very hard-to-match patients, some of them are what we call highly sensitized. These are patients who have antibodies, and it makes it very difficult to find a match between the donor and the recipient."
An additional 16 kidney transplants are scheduled for the weeks ahead.
A kidney is truly a gift of life, Dr. Sher said. It means a patient will no longer need dialysis and has improved health and well-being.
The registry also includes non-directed donors - people who aren't paired but who are willing to donate a kidney to anyone in need.
"Non-directed donors are selfless heroes that have created 'domino exchanges' which are responsible for 45 of the 57 transplants to date," Ed Cole, chair of the National Kidney Registries Advisory Committee, said in a statement.
"Non-directed donors greatly increase the number of available matches, but best of all, since they enter as a single rather than as a pair, it means that at the end of the domino chain, one patient on the deceased donor waiting list also gets a transplant," said Dr. Cole.
Figures released Tuesday by Statistics Canada show that kidney disease was the ninth leading cause of death in 2007.
Approximately 35,000 Canadians are living with kidney disease, including about 3,000 people on a waiting list for a transplant, according to the Kidney Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Organ Replacement Register of the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
Each kidney transplant saves the health-care system up to $40,000 a year, said Paul Shay, national executive director of the foundation.
The Canadian Press