Pop star Selena Gomez revealed this week that her longtime friend, actress Francia Raisa, had donated a kidney for Gomez’s organ transplant surgery over the summer. But more than 100,000 Americans who need a life-saving transplant aren’t fortunate enough to have a friend or relative who’s both willing to give up a kidney and a proper biological match, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
The 25-year-old Gomez revealed on Instagram Thursday that she had been taking a break from show biz this summer to recover from her transplant surgery, which was necessary because she suffers from the autoimmune condition Lupus. The kidneys are responsible for flushing out waste and drugs from the body, as well as regulating and producing certain key hormones, vitamins, and red blood cells.
“I’m very aware some of my fans had noticed I was laying low for part of the summer and questioning why I wasn’t promoting my new music, which I was extremely proud of,” Gomez wrote in her post. “So I found out I needed to get a kidney transplant due to my Lupus and was recovering. It was what I needed to do for my overall health.” She added that there weren’t enough “words to describe how I can possibly thank my beautiful friend Francia Raisa,” who gave her “the ultimate gift and sacrifice by donating her kidney to me. I am incredibly blessed.”
Many people aren’t nearly as lucky. About 101,000 of the 123,000 people on an organ transplant waitlist in the U.S. need a kidney. Unfortunately, only 17,000 actually wind up getting one in any given year. That means 12 people die every single day waiting for a kidney, says the National Kidney Foundation.
One obvious reason for the massive wait is a scarcity of available kidneys, either from live or dead tissue donations. Usually, living donors have to be close family members, and surgery comes with inevitable medical risks for both donor and beneficiary. The average wait time for a kidney in 2017 is 679 days, or nearly two full years, according to consulting firm Milliman. That can spell a death sentence for people with dangerous kidney conditions.
The process is also extremely expensive. Milliman estimates that the average billed charges for 16,804 kidney transplants in 2017 were $414,800.
A potential, futuristic solution to the organ shortage (besides boosting the number of donors)? Technology that could allow us to one day use pig organs as suitable replacements for human ones. Biotech firm eGenesis announced last month that it had successfully removed harmful viruses endemic to pigs by using CRISPR gene-editing, opening up the possibility that their organs may be safely transplanted into people.