Back in the day, as they used to say on Wall Street, Ned Brooks was a take-no-prisoners bond salesman.
Competitive and driven. Merrill Lynch. International institutional clients. Like fellow alumni of Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, success was measured by size. How big was his annual bonus?
At last year’s class reunion, Ned got a standing ovation. But it wasn’t the size of his bonus that had his fellow alumni applauding. It was his donation. Not a financial donation. A kidney. His own. To a stranger no less.
Talk about a different way to measure success.
Since his kidney donation, Ned hasn’t stopped focusing on the promise of anonymous donations. And, like all former Wall Streeters, he’s focused on numbers and leverage.
Leverage: “How Many Lives Could My Kidney Donation Impact?”
“The concept of leverage was absolutely the driver for me, “ recalls Ned. “The idea that my one wholly redundant kidney could impact multiple lives, not just the patients themselves but their children, their parents, was huge.”
And the idea of starting a kidney donation chain touched his competitive side: “How many lives could my kidney donation impact?”
Healthy and robust with his one remaining kidney -- humans are born with two kidneys but need only one – Ned is on a mission. He wants to help the nation’s 100,000+ patients waiting for a kidney. And he wants those with two kidneys to donate one. Even if they don’t know the potential recipient.
It’s a tall order. Only 183 non-directed donors stepped forward in 2014. Ned aims to change that.
He’s founded Donor-to-Donor to help crowd-source organs for patients who need a kidney – many of whom are struggling with dialysis and attendant health-issues, hardly able to advocate for themselves. He’s given a TED Talk about leveraging social media to promote altruistic kidney donations. He’s passionate when it comes to recruiting donors.
Anonymous Donors are Different, Happier
He maintains these so-called “anonymous” kidney donors are different. Happier, in fact. Science may back him up, suggesting such kidney donors are blessed with larger-than-normal amygdalae, almond-sized parts of the limbic, “primitive” brain involved with emotions, such as fear and pleasure.
Ned, like most anonymous donors he has met, has become even happier since his donation. To say nothing of the recipients. Not surprisingly, their lives have been transformed, given a new life without dialysis three times a week.
What surprised Ned was how much his life has improved.
But first, about his kidney. Ned had two perfectly functioning kidneys. Like most who studied basic biology in high school, he understood he needed only one. But that’s all he thought about his kidneys.
Until the day he listened to a Freakonomics podcast, which profiled anonymous kidney donors and the ground-breaking work of Nobel-winning economist, Alvin Roth, who established a system to match donors and recipients throughout the United States.
Inspired by Nobel-Prize Winning Economist Alvin Roth on Freakonomics
“When I heard Professor Roth describe the kidney chain, I knew in that moment that I would be donating my kidney to a stranger,” he recalls. “It was as if I was struck by lightning.”
While Ned knew immediately he would donate his kidney, he wanted to involve his family. His wife Louise was easy to persuade. A successful architect and business owner, she’s been a steadfast supporter of Ned’s various endeavors. Their daughter, Madeline, a banker who works with non-profits, surprised him with her initial resistance. She soon became his most ardent fan. Eventually, all three children supported their father’s quest.
Being 0+ blood type, Ned was a universal donor. Once he completed the necessary medical tests, which indicated he was in excellent health for a 64-year-old man, his kidney could be matched with anyone on the waiting list.
In September 2015, Ned entered New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, to donate his kidney. It was surgically removed and flown to a Colorado hospital, where Danielle, a teacher and mother whose kidneys inexplicably failed while she was delivering her second child, had spent months on dialysis, while raising two young children and a holding her teaching job. Danielle’s father was ready to donate his to her, but they weren’t a match. So, she continued to wait.
Danielle, like more than 100,000 others in the US, can wait years for a kidney donation. On average, 12 people die every day for want of a kidney transplant. In 2015, 8,250 patients received a kidney from deceased organ donors, those who likely signed their driver’s licenses indicating they would donate their organs if a traffic accident killed them. Some patients are lucky enough to have a relative or friend willing to donate one of their kidneys to them. Often, they’re not compatible.
That’s where anonymous donors come in.
By donating his kidney to a stranger as a living donor, what is called a non-directed or an altruistic donor, Ned was able to begin – or unlock -- a chain of kidney donations. Danielle received Ned’s kidney and her father donated his kidney, which was flown to another waiting recipient in Connecticut, whose family member had a kidney that wasn’t compatible with her love one’s organ. And so on. Three transplants resulted.
The record for this so-called chain of kidney transplants that was unlocked by a non-directed donation, is 51. Imagine the impact on those people and their families. All because one donor stepped forward.
It is illegal to sell a kidney in the US, under the National Organ Transplant Act, so people whose kidneys fail must join a waiting list. Economist Roth, whose academic work includes breakthroughs in game theory and market design, has widely applied his economic thinking to real world problems. He and his colleagues tackled the complex issue of kidney transplants. Patients and potential donors lived throughout the United States. They often weren’t compatible with their loved ones, but potentially compatible with someone several states away. It was a complex medical and economic challenge.
Registry Pairs Compatible Kidney Donors with Recipients
To solve this challenge, they founded the New England Program for Kidney Exchange, a registry and matching program that pairs compatible kidney donors and recipients.
The program pairs donors, who – while incompatible with their own loved one – are compatible with another recipient in the United States. Through this program, pairs of kidney donors and recipients simultaneously donate and receive kidneys, with kidneys being flown across the country to complete the exchanges.
But, to maximize the number of kidney donations, it often requires a living donor to unlock to chain.
Donors like Ned. For most of them, the experience of donating a kidney is life-changing. When Ned decided to donate his kidney to a stranger, he expected to change someone’s life. He just didn’t expect it to be his own.