by Lora Wilson
When I donated my kidney in 2006, I lived less than 10 miles from the transplant center so travel costs were not an issue for me. Family members and friends close by drove me home from the hospital and to my follow-up appointments. That is not the case for many potential living donors who may perceive travel costs to be an insurmountable obstacle on their path toward donation.
In cases where bridging the distances to link donor with recipient involves much more than calling in a favor to ask for a ride, the National Living Donor Assistance Center (NLDAC) offers needs-based travel grants of up to $6,000. NLDAC grants can transform roadblocks into gateways of opportunity for those that qualify. In fulfillment of one of the NKF's End the Wait program goals, the NLDAC focuses its efforts on removing this common disincentive to living donation.
According to NLDAC Program Coordinator, Holly Warren, RN, CPTC, applications for travel grants must be submitted by one of the 324 registered transplant programs throughout the U.S. on behalf of the living donor. Both the donor and recipient must submit proof of household income since preference is given to donors and recipients that fall below 300% of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) poverty guidelines.
Those guidelines are more generous than one might think. For example, a family of four could have household income of up to $67,050 and still qualify for assistance. The program also makes provisions for those who are over the income threshold, but have special circumstances that may be deemed a "financial hardship."
Each application is reviewed on a case-by-case basis, so potential donors that exceed the income guidelines, but provide financial support to individuals outside of their household, have significant out-of-pocket medical expenses, or expect to experience a substantial loss of income in the post-donation period may still qualify for a grant.
The federally-funded program has been assisting donors since 2007, and was recently renewed for another four years. According to its website, the NLDAC has been able to fund more than 87% of the 1593 applications it has received.
NLDAC is the payer of last resort, and covers expenses not paid by insurance carriers or other programs. Thus far, 95% of the grant recipients were potential kidney donors, with the remainder being liver donors. Only solid organ living donor transplants are covered by the program.
The time to apply for NLDAC travel assistance is prior to making trips for testing or for the actual donation. It takes at least three weeks for an application to be reviewed, approved and funded. And as Warren explains, "the program cannot pay for expenses that occurred before the application was approved." Grant payments are made via a special American Express card that may be used only for approved travel expenditures like airline tickets, meals and lodging.
Staff at the NLDAC establishes travel budgets based on the application submitted by the transplant center. Donors who need to fly to the transplant center may make their own airplane and hotel reservations, or use the travel agency contracted with the NLDAC. Expenses for caregivers to travel with the living donor are also covered since the donor will not be able to lift luggage and should not travel alone in the initial post-operative period.
Warren finds it gratifying to work with living donors and to be able to provide extra help to support them as they give the gift of life. While she is very happy with her program's successes thus far, she hopes to be able to reach out to help even more people.
The NLDAC website (www.livingdonorassistance.org) provides detailed information on the program, including an eligibility screening tool. Any interested living donors or recipients can call the NLDAC at toll free at 888-870-5002 for more information or inquire about the program at their transplant centers.
Editor’s Note: Lora Wilson was a living kidney donor in 2006 and looks forward to traveling to Sweden to watch the 2011 World Transplant Games this summer!