“Lamar Odom To Undergo Kidney Transplant? Do the Rich & Famous Get A Kidney Transplant Sooner?” reads the provocative KidneyBuzz.com headline.

A few days ago, I came across this Kidney Buzz article, and was bothered by it. The article is misleading and divisive, spurring unnecessary outrage among the Kidney Buzz readers by insinuating that the kidney transplant process is rigged. If chronic kidney disease patients get the idea that the system is unfair, I feel it could discourage some from seeking the best treatment options. That’s not right. Many of the comments I read were highly emotional, which is understandable, but many were negative and downright nasty, chastising Lamar Odom for something he hadn’t done. From what I can tell, he doesn’t even need a transplant, something the article points out in the first line. Kidney Buzz should really issue him an apology.

The article used former L.A. Laker and two-time NBA champion, Lamar Odom, as their subject. In case you don’t know, Lamar Odom was found unresponsive at a Nevada brothel in October 2015. The cause of his bodily injury was a potentially lethal combination of drugs that included cocaine and sexual performance enhancers. He reportedly suffered multiple strokes and organ failure that included kidney failure. He was on dialysis for a while but his kidneys recovered and was subsequently taken off.

To be clear, if Lamar did need a transplant, it would, in my opinion, be fair for him to receive one. The fact that he has substance abuse problems and that his kidney damage may have been caused by his own actions should not disqualify him for treatment. After all, smokers that get lung cancer receive and deserve treatment, just as diabetes patients that get diabetes from overeating receive and deserve to be treated. Lamar would need to be physically and emotionally fit to undergo such a surgery, so if he was still abusing drugs that would obviously delay things. From his Players Tribune article published recently he claims to now be clean and sober.

Going into renal failure and needing dialysis and a kidney transplant to survive is unbearable for everyone who suffers such a fate, whether they are rich and famous or poor and lonely. I know how sensitive these issues can be, as I have sat in a dialysis clinic to have my blood changed, and undergone the painstaking process of having a kidney transplant. Believe me, it’s not a walk in the park and I would be outraged if I thought the game was rigged, too.

So, is the kidney transplant process rigged? Do the rich and famous get transplants sooner? Kidney Buzz says, yes. I say, no. I’m sticking up for the rich and famous here, especially Lamar Odom.

As far as I can tell, the rich and famous don’t have an unfair advantage in this case. The decks are not stacked. The fact is there is no gaming the regular kidney donor list. That just doesn’t happen. You sign up and wait your turn. That’s how it goes. It’s also illegal to pay someone to donate their kidney to you.

Here’s where things blur. The rich can register on multiple donor lists around the country, but so can everyone else. The Kidney Buzz article points out that a rich person has an advantage here because they could theoretically hop on a plane on a moment’s notice when their number is called. I am sure that does happen in some cases. But that would be super complicated and you would need to coordinate with multiple doctors and hospitals. I thought about signing up for lists in states where the wait time is shorter. In my area, Los Angeles, it is up to twelve years in some cases. I didn’t do that because I wanted to be familiar, comfortable, with the surgeon and facility where I was going to have the transplant. I assume the same is true for the rich and famous. Its more realistic that they would sign up for multiple lists within a smaller, more confined area, something everyone can and should do.       

Fortunately, I have a relatively large immediate family that live here in Southern California. My aunt was brave enough to step up and go through the testing. Ultimately, she was deemed a match and physically eligible to give me one of her kidneys. And she did. Did I have an unfair advantage because I have a large family and a close relative who was willing and able to donate?

It is easy to imagine that a famous person would have a larger pool of people who say they would donate to them but, that’s no guarantee. The testing is demanding, rigorous, and scary. I experienced this phenomenon firsthand, though I am sure on a much smaller scale than a celebrity like Lamar Odom would. I had close to a hundred people say they would donate their kidney to me but only a very small handful were strong enough to take the next step. It takes a brave soul to do that. Additionally, Lamar Odom is very large man, a giant, six-foot-ten. He would need another large person’s kidney for it to be able to filter his blood and sustain his body. That fact alone would narrow the popularity gap considerably in his case. I am unaware of any similarly sized siblings he may have but it’s not inconceivable to think Shaq or Kobe or another friend or former teammate would step up. And if they did, would you count receiving a kidney from a friend an unfair advantage?

I don’t see innate popularity as an unfair advantage when anyone can set up a Facebook fan page and spread the word that they need a kidney. Many people do this and each time I see it, I pray that they find what they are looking for. Again, everybody has that option, and it’s a good option. I have been told by my doctors, and have seen online that a lot of paired transplant connections happen over social media. The world is much more compassionate than you may think. There are lots and lots of generous people out there, and ones that are closer to you than you may know. Those brave and generous people need to know you need help.

Needing a kidney transplant is not an issue that should divide us. Every patient is different and every situation is different. It’s an issue that needs awareness and patients that are willing to be proactive with their healthcare. You need to exploit your resources and know your options. Gone are the days when you can keep your woes inside. Times have changed, science has changed, and so should you.