Missy Franklin: No One Should Die Waiting for a Lifesaving Organ Transplant



As the world continues to battle with a staggering pandemic that understandably has captured nearly every aspect of medical news, millions of people fight battles as before with major illnesses like cancer and heart disease. Among the many Americans currently suffering from potentially fatal medical conditions are those waiting for kidney, liver, or other organ transplants.


My dad Dick and aunt (and godmother) Deb are two of them. My family suffers from Polycystic Kidney Disease or PKD, a genetic disorder that reduces kidney function. Nearly half of those with PKD have kidney failure by age 60, and my father and aunt are in end-stage renal failure now. They are on the transplant list awaiting new kidneys.


We decided to share our story publicly a couple of weeks ago. It was not an easy decision, yet, we are already stunned at the support and love we have received since then. My father-in-law (the incredible man that he is) tried so hard to give my dad one of his kidneys before not being accepted at one of the final stages. We had another dear family friend begin the process as well, who was also not accepted.


While I desperately wait for the gift of life for two of the most important people in my life, I took the time to learn more about transplants and organ donation. I began to realize the bigger picture — 90,000 Americans need a kidney transplant. In fact, 96% of the total number of people waiting for transplants nationally need a kidney or a liver, and both of those can be provided by a living donor. But 17 people are still dying each day awaiting a lifesaving organ.


In the face of this, my family and I decided to work with the American Transplant Foundation, to help save the lives of the men, women, and children who need lifesaving organ transplants, and to increase awareness and education about living donation.


The solution is simple: by increasing the number of people who are willing to become living donors, we reduce the number of people who die every day awaiting an organ transplant.


Living kidney donation is without a doubt one of the most profound gifts of love and life and is easier than one might think. For example, did you know that most kidney donors remain in the hospital for just 2 to 3 days and can return to work in 2-3 weeks or even sooner if their job doesn’t require heavy lifting and they can work from home?


The American Transplant Foundation has been a tremendous resource of knowledge and assistance for us. The Foundation offers financial assistance to donors to offset lost wages that occur while they are donating an organ, educates and mentors people on the importance and process involved in being a living donor, and fights for better legislation to protect the rights of living donors, transplant recipients, and those on the list.


About 6,500 incredible Americans become living kidney and liver donors each year to save the lives of family members, friends, co-workers, and even people they’ve never met. If you are a living donor, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.


It has been hell watching my dad go through this. We are hoping to avoid dialysis, but we know that we will get through this, together, no matter what. My dad has remained a wonderful husband, father, and grandfather throughout this entire time, despite everything he is going through.


If you are interested in saving the life of someone on the transplant list, the Potential Living Donor Database (PLDD) is a great way to be connected to more information, resources, and profiles of those who are looking for a donor, including my family members.


If you are a potential transplant recipient who is seeking a living donor, your story can be posted on the American Transplant Foundation website for potential living donors to see.


No one should die while waiting for a lifesaving transplant.


American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping themselves.”


What greater way is there to experience this than by saving another person’s life?


Missy Franklin is a five-time Olympic swimming gold medalist and a Colorado native. She shared this story with Anastasia Henry the executive director of the American Transplant Foundation who wrote this column on her behalf.