How Did Natalie Cole Find That Kidney So Fast?

Not officially, but there is a loophole that lets celebs grab organs quicker

By Leslie Gornstein May 27, 2009 8:45 PMTags
Wyclef Jean, Steve Earle, Rhett Miller, Michael McDonald, Jane Krakowski, Moby, Mary J. Blige, Moby, Sheryl Crow, Clay Aiken, Elvis Costello, Norah Jones, Sara Bareilles, Adam Levine, Adam Horovitz, Robert Randolph, Talib Kweli, Cyndi Lauper, Kidney Now Benefit, 30 RockNBC/ Jessica Miglio

What is up with Natalie Cole? I just read she's had a kidney transplant. Do celebrities get preferential treatment for organ replacements?
—Christine, via the Answer B!tch inbox

I would love to tell you there's a secret stack of kidneys reserved just for celebrities behind a velvet rope at Cedars-Sinai, but I can't.

The United Network for Organ Sharing tells me it uses a strict set of non-box-office-related criteria to make sure that the nationwide donation database stays fair: stuff like length of time spent on the waiting list, blood type and whether the candidate is a child.

"This is a very controlled set of lists," says Dr. Luca Cicalese, chair and director of the Texas Transplant Center and Professor of Surgery.

But are there loopholes? Of course. Where there's a celebrity, there's a way, and 30 Rock's fake Kidney Now! benefit—with Mary J. Blige and Cindy Lauper crooning for Alan Alda's organ—isn't that farfetched:

There's this thing called a direct donation. It means that a donor—usually a family member—designates a particular recipient to receive a needed organ. U.S. law says donors or their families can indicate a specific person to receive an organ; if the organ is a match, those wishes must be honored.

In the case of Cole, a family that did not know her—but who obviously had read of her kidney problems—specifically broached Cole's name and asked if they could donate a kidney to the singer. I am told this by a rep for OneLegacy, a nonprofit that arranges this donation.

Without her fame, would this family ever have thought to bring up Cole as a recipient?

I'm gonna go way out on a limb here and say no.

So does that mean that celebrities have a leg—or a kidney—up on regular folks in the race for an organ?

Consider: When basketball star Alonzo Mourning announced he needed a kidney, "600 people called saying they wanted to give him a kidney," OneLegacy rep Bryan Stewart tells me. The donation ended up coming from a family member, but you get the picture.

"There is something inherent in fame that is going to at least interest people in your plight," Stewart mulls. "Is that fair or unfair? I am not one to make a judgment on that."

So let's hold an experiment here: If Robert Pattinson needed a kidney, would you volunteer one of yours?

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