Peter Reese couldn't believe what he just heard.
The associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania was in France for a yearlong sabbatical when someone mentioned an 83-year-old kidney donor.
"I really wondered whether or not I misheard them," he said, adding he was still getting used to speaking French. A donor that old would be extraordinary, especially in the U.S. where the average age of a kidney donor is 39 year.
He got it right.
In France, where the average age of a donor is about 56, kidneys are not automatically rejected from older donors or if the person had health issues like high blood pressure or diabetes, factors that would excluded them from U.S. donations. French organ centers are far more likely to use "lower-rated kidneys" for transplant, Reese found.
Used for older transplant recipients, French success rates show that kidneys from donors in their 50s and 60s represent an untapped opportunity to extend life, the study found.
If the U.S. adopted the model used in France, it could provide a total of more than 10,000 years of life with a functioning kidney to transplant patients each year, according to the study.
That was the start of his study to compare the U.S. and France from 2004 to 2014 regarding deceased kidney donors.
The results were published in Internal Medicine, a journal of the American Medical Association.
About 37 million U.S. adults have chronic kidney disease. More than 720,000 people have kidney failure, and require a transplant or dialysis to survive. Kidney disease is the ninth leading cause of death in the U.S.