The California Senate is expected to vote this week on a bill that would make the state the first in the nation to establish a living kidney donor registry.

Authored by Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-Santa Clara, SB 1395 would establish a nonprofit Altruistic Living Donor Registry that would allow Californians to identify themselves as potential kidney donors. The information would be shared with organ procurement centers and transplant facilities around the state to accelerate the process of matching an organ donor with a recipient. If the bill passes, it could land on the governor’s desk this summer for a signature.

Alquist said she began considering such a bill when a friend, Silicon Valley businessman John Sobrato, spoke to her about the challenges of getting a kidney.

“John was facing a wait of up to eight years, but he had the extreme good fortune of a friend donating a kidney to him,” Alquist said in an e-mail. “I could not imagine wondering day after day if this would be the day that provided me hope — that today would be the day I learned if I got to live.”

Alquist said she was also compelled by National Kidney Foundation statistics that show 17,000 Californians were among the 84,000 Americans waiting for a kidney. About a third die waiting.

Schwarzenegger, Jobs back bill

Alquist, chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee, authored the bill with two Republican senators in February, then gained the support of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is sponsoring it.

In a March 19 news conference in Palo Alto, Schwarzenegger stood shoulder to shoulder with Apple co-founder and liver transplant recipient Steve Jobs in support of the bill.

“Because he is a wealthy man ... that helped him get the transplant,” Schwarzenegger said during the news conference. “But he doesn’t want that — that only wealthy people can get the transplant ... everyone ought to have the right to get immediately a transplant.”

The first part of the bill addresses other organ donations by proposing the creation of the California Organ and Tissue Donor Registry to keep track of people who want their organs to be donated upon their deaths.

Also, registrars at the California Department of Motor Vehicles would be required to verbally ask each applicant if they would like to be an organ donor.

Suzanne McGuire, transplant coordinator for the UCLA Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation Program, believes the bill would spark interest in organ donation. But she also wants potential donors to remember they are agreeing to major surgery.

“It’s a very emotional thing for people to want to make that gesture,” she said. “It would be wise for people to have a physical exam and a discussion with their doctors about being a living donor.”

Painful, but worth it, woman says Connie Hixson, 55, of Simi Valley knows how tough the decision can be. When her mother needed a kidney 25 years ago, Hixson donated hers, but she admitted “it was painful.” But her kidney afforded her mother decades of quality life, and Hixson said if she weren’t living with one kidney, she would sign up as a living donor for a stranger.

The registry would provide for a direct donation, in which a living donor would give a kidney to someone they know, such as a relative. It would also provide for a non-directed donation, in which a person offers a kidney to anyone who is a good medical match.

Joe Turgeon, 52, of Westlake Village said he’d sign up if he were single. Having worked in the nephrology department at Amgen, he has seen the devastation caused by end-stage renal failure. “I would sign up if I were single, but being a father of four with five siblings, I think I should keep one for my family,” he said.

Thomas Hunter, a 36-year-old Catholic monk from Ventura, said he would sign up to donate a kidney to a stranger because it’s an act of perfect charity. “There are two requirements for perfect charity,” he said, “that it be anonymous and that there be no reward from men. Your reward would be from God.”