WINDHAM, Maine — A community’s overwhelming generosity has put a highly publicized kidney donation on hold.
Officials at Maine Medical Center in Portland said unprecedented fundraising for the donor has raised concerns about a federal law that makes it illegal to be paid for an organ.
“He just wanted to be a good example,” said Ashley Dall-Leighton, whose husband, Josh Dall-Leighton, 30, is offering his kidney to a stranger.
Ashley said Josh, a father of three, didn’t think twice when he saw a plea for a kidney on the back of a car.
“His first thought was, ‘This mom, she’s a mom. Her son needs her,’” said Ashley.
As it turns out, Josh is a perfect match for Christine Royles, 24.
“My husband has, in a sense, turned into her hero,” Ashley said.
But a transplant comes with costs, so Royles organized fundraisers to cover the Dall-Leighton family’s expenses while Josh is out of work recovering.
Someone else started a GoFundMe page that unexpectedly raised more than $48,000.
At Josh’s first evaluation at Maine Medical Center on Wednesday, the dollar amount raised eyebrows and concerns.
“They’re concerned that people’s outpouring of generosity for our family could be perceived as selling an organ,” said Ashley.
When asked if money was ever an incentive for Josh to donate, Ashley said, “No way.”
Officials at Maine Medical are frustrated, too. They said the donor and patient are top priority, but they also have to make sure they don’t violate a 1984 federal law.
“There’s an unprecedented element to this case,” said Dr. John Vella of the Maine Transplant Program.
Vella said the average out-of-pocket expense of a living organ donor is $6,000, meant to cover travel, lost wages and miscellaneous medical costs. The 1984 law doesn’t specify where the money should come from.
Vella said the hospital isn’t making accusations.
“Clearly this was an altruistic offer,” he said.
Maine Medical Center is consulting outside legal counsel and other health care organizations for guidance on interpreting the law.
“At this point, we’re not viewing [it] as a deal breaker or a reason not to proceed with the kidney donation,” said Vella. He said Royles is now on dialysis.
Alexandra Glazier, president and CEO of the New England Organ Bank, said the organization strongly supports living donation to increase the availability of organs for transplantation.
“This generous gift should be at no financial cost to the living donor,” she said in a statement. “For these reasons, NEOB supports reimbursement of donation-related costs when consistent with state and federal law as an ethical way to remove financial barriers to living donation. Policies should be developed to ensure that fundraising efforts to pay for donation costs on behalf of living donors meet legal standards.”
While the transplant has been put on hold, Vella said they are proceeding with evaluations.
Ashley said a response needs to come quickly.
“I would hate for Christine to die while we wait to get an answer.”
Vella said Maine Medical Center is moving forward and promised to contact Josh with an update by Friday.