Jan. 26, 2008— -- People can get cars, boats, jobs, pets and even dates on Craigslist. So why not a kidney?
More and more patients across the U.S., many facing a life-or-death wait for a suitable organ, are turning to Internet sites like Craigslist to find a kidney donor.
And some are finding them. Their ingenuity has saved lives, and cut waiting times by years -- possibly a decade or more for some.
It's not hard to see why some families are willing to take this route. Last year, 4,505 people died on traditional lists waiting for a kidney, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.
But some families who talked to ABC News say once they find a kidney outside of the traditional organ-donor waiting list system, they have faced hospitals that are suspicious or unprepared to deal with the legal and ethical questions of harvesting an organ from a living person located through personal ads.
Only 10 percent of transplant centers will consider doing a kidney transplant from an altruistic live donor who is not related or known by the patient.
And only 20-30 percent of transplant centers are willing to perform a so-called "kidney swap" between two families at the hospital who can't find a blood-type match for their loved ones among their own family, but are well-matched across families.
These barriers would not deter Brian Golbad, a 25-year-old from Los Angeles, from his New Year's resolution to find his dad a kidney. It was a promise that would lead him to search for a donor on the Internet.
"We can't wait for the city, or the state or the government to do it," Golbad told ABCNews.com. "We're going to have to do it ourselves now."
Golbad said he was shocked to learn that his father, Ali Golbad, had kidney failure two years ago. For months their family doctor said his father's swollen feet were the result of old age.
"By the time I found out, I lost 63 percent of my kidneys," Ali Golbad told ABC News.
Then the Golbads heard the really bad news: no one in the family was a suitable donor for Ali.
So Ali's name was placed on an organ donor wait list. "We have signed up on the waiting list, and it takes about seven years, minimum," Brian Golbad said he was told.
Fortunately, the Golbad family says, Ali was a patient at the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center, one of the few hospitals willing to perform a kidney transplant with an altruistic stranger's kidney.
So with his father's health deteriorating, Brian Golbad placed an ad on Craigslist after the holidays that read:
"Please help us Save My Dad! Ask your Friends, Family members and Co-workers if they can donate a kidney.
My dad has kidney failure and needs a kidney donor. Please call or e-mail me if you or someone you know could help save his life.
Thank you & God Bless"
After the listing was posted, the Golbads quickly ran into the types of challenges that deter the majority of hospitals from accepting altruistic stranger donations.
"We realized that lots of people are trying to make fast cash off of that," said Ali. "They know we are desperate and if we do not get a kidney we'll die."
Money for Organ Donation Scams
Among the responses the family got from their posting, a man in India offered the Golbads his kidney in exchange for an all-expenses paid relocation to the U.S. Another person, an artist, offered the Golbads his kidney if the family bought $250,000 worth of his paintings.
U.S. Federal law prohibits selling human organs and tissues. Any compensation beyond medical expenses can stick the family with fines or jail time. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration, the purpose of the law "was to make sure the wealthy do not have an unfair advantage for obtaining donated organs and tissues."
"In other countries people buy and sell organs like its shoes and socks," said Brian. "We've been considering going to Iran, to India, to Indonesia, to get the surgery done. But UCLA has not recommended that."
The Golbads aren't alone in their desperation. When a person is told they have kidney failure, their doctor usually presents the family with three standard options. Find a family member or friend who can give you a kidney, go on dialysis, or go on dialysis and get in line behind the 78,190 people currently waiting for a kidney.
According to Joel Newman, spokesman for the United Network for Organ Sharing, even if a person manages to get a kidney from the waiting list, their chances of a healthy survival diminish with each year they wait on dialysis.
"The waiting list is growing, and it is growing at a considerable rate," said Newman.
With an aging population, the increase in obesity and diabetes, "Kidney disease has become more common," he added.
The Golbads also face the reality that a kidney from a deceased person off a waiting list fares worse than a kidney from a living donor.
Yet, despite all the advantages of finding a living kidney donor outside of the family, there is no national waiting list for living donors.
Finding Your Own Kidney
That reality prompted people like Jennifer, Cynthia, and Heather Flood of New York City to search for their own kidney donor online to save their father. It took more than a year, but the Flood sisters found a hospital willing to perform a stranger-altruistic donor transplant and a suitable donor for their father, Danny Flood.
Now the Flood sisters have started their own online kidney registration Web sitefor people to find living donors.
Their registry has located just 28 U.S. hospitals that will perform stranger-altruistic donor kidney transplant. Many shy away from dealing with donor volunteers who may have questionable motivations.
Georgette Saiid of Brunswick, N.Y., also successfully found a kidney donor through Craigslist. Some Canadians -- Jewel Calibaba, and Lois Wilson of British Columbia -- have started Craigslist advertisements and Facebook pages to find kidney donors.
Another family has taken the initiative to start a national list of kidney donors that could include kidney swaps or "paired exchanges."
"If you know if you need a kidney and you don't have a compatible donor, you do whatever you can," said Garet Hil, founder of president of the National Kidney Registry, which aims to pool all family donors and patients into one registry to ensure more people can receive kidneys.
Hil founded the registry after going through 15 different potential donors before finding a suitable match for his 10-year-old daughter, who was suffering from kidney failure.
"Twenty to 30 percent of the people on the waiting list will not have a living donor match with family and friends," said Hil.
Meanwile Ali Goldbar and his family in Los Angeles wait for a phone call or an e-mail with news of the miracle that will save a life.
"Everyone has been very supportive. Everyone is just spreaking the word that we need a kidney donor," said Brian. "I've been telling family, friends, co-workers, anyone."