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Kidney Transplant, Desperate Housewives Style

I have to laugh out loud sometimes at how Hollywood stumbles across facts like a drunk bull in an antique shop.

The latest example is the character of Susan Delfino (played by Teri Hatcher) on Desperate Housewives (Sunday nights on ABC). The adorably ditzy Susan experienced kidney failure, earning pity for the likeable character. And she made it look like a day at the beach. Sure, she passed out a few times and wound up in the hospital, but there was no nausea, anemia, perpetually itchy skin, or that grey, sickly-looking complexion. All of these are symptoms caused by imbalances of various toxins, chemicals, and nutrients that occur when the kidneys decide to take a time out.

There was one detail the writers of Desperate Housewives actually exaggerated. They had poor Susan doing dialysis treatments lasting six hours each, not the usual four. Hollywood giveth and Hollywood taketh away. Somehow, she did dialysis 50% longer than most kidney patients, but had 75% more time and energy when not hooked up to the machine and looked 122% better while she was at it.

Within only a few weeks a donor appeared out of the woodwork. Actually, he appeared from Susan’s past and–like so many of the people her character attracts—is not quite right in the head (though his kidneys are superb). It turns out he went to high school with her and had been obsessed about her and is only too happy to share a kidney with her to get on her good side—or in his case—noticed at all. As luck (and Hollywood) would have it, he’s the right blood type. And he’s a perfect tissue match, which isn’t a guarantee even with the correct blood type.

Having received a kidney from a living non-related donor, I can report that it takes several weeks to approve someone as a donor. There are dozens of medical tests checking the health of several other parts of the donor’s body, not to mention several vials of blood taken to test for a wide variety of diseases. The results don’t come back overnight.

Then there’s the psychological testing, which obviously isn’t something the transplant team at Fairview Hospital bother with. In the real world, they make sure the donor isn’t being paid for the kidney or being coerced into donating it. They check to make sure the donor isn’t giving up a kidney for any number of mentally unhealthy reasons, such as romantic obsession born out of a teenage crush.

In the end it was Susan, not a doctor, who determined her potential donor wasn’t healthy enough between his ears to spare any other parts. Discouraged, but never looking any worse from the experience, her wait for a kidney continued.

Enter mentally unstable donor #2: the new bride of equally cuckoo neighbor Paul Young. She married him while he was serving time in prison for murder, assuming he’d never actually be free. She somehow missed all the news reports about prison overcrowding. Little wonder why she’s so messed up. It turns out the simple-minded Beth was manipulated by her evil mother (also a prison convict) to marry Paul so she could do some sort of harm to him. Yes, there’s plenty of crazy to go around, but not enough kidneys.

Long story short, Beth commits suicide there at the hospital, with documentation that one of her kidneys will go to Susan Delfino. How about that? Crazy Donor #2 Beth is a perfect tissue match and the right blood type too. Gotta love those odds, especially if you’ve ever been on a transplant waiting list.

Of course, Susan comes through the surgery with flying colors and bounces out of the hospital in record time, looking like she might have had a stressful day at work. Apparently, the crackerjack transplant team at Fairview Hospital didn’t advise her to stay inside, away from crowds for several weeks after the surgery. Her immune system would have been reduced to almost zero so it wouldn’t attack Crazy Beth’s kidney.

In the real, non-Hollywood world, the high dose of Prednisone (a steroid anti-rejection drug) a transplant patient takes for several months would have given the lovely Susan acne, a round face, a bloated body, a ravenous appetite, and a very short temper. Teri would have no doubt spent hours in the makeup chair and I hear those things get uncomfortable after a while. Awwwww.

It will be interesting to see what other “untransplantlike” things Susan will do in future episodes. Don’t get me wrong. I like the show. It’s one of only a few with interesting plot twists, clever lines, and a nice mix or drama and humor. There’s quite a bit of talent on there, too. What’s not to love about Teri Hatcher? And it’s good that the subject of organ donation is brought to viewers’ attention.

I just had to add my own little reality check, for the 300 million of us living outside the make-believe world of Hollywood, where many of life’s problems are solved in half an hour (twenty minutes excluding commercial time) and sick people look better than most of us on our best day.