Chain Results in 10 Kidney Swaps Among Strangers
Dr Michael Rees, 46, sits with Angela Heckman, 32, left, and her mother, Laurie Sarvo, 54, in a Toledo, Ohio, restaurant Tuesday March 10, 2009. (AP Photo/Madalyn Ruggiero)
John Rossheim / Monster.com
March 11, 2009
When Matthew Jones decided to donate a kidney to a stranger, the Michigan father of five had no idea he’d be starting a lifesaving, “pay it forward” chain. His kidney donation to a Phoenix woman in 2007 set off a long-running organ swap that resulted in 10 sick people getting new kidneys over a year. It hasn’t ended yet.
This chain of living donors and others like it could help increase the number of kidney transplants, lead to better matches that will increase survival and even reduce spending on costly, long-term dialysis, says the Ohio doctor behind the effort.
“My dream would be that we eliminate the waiting list because we could turn every altruistic donor into 100 transplants,” said Dr. Michael Rees, a transplant surgeon at University of Toledo Medical Center.
Rees founded the Alliance for Paired Donation, which orchestrated the now 10-person transplant chain first begun by Jones and reported in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine.
A half-dozen other transplant groups have started similar programs, and the organization the federal government pays to oversee all U.S. organ transplants is developing its own national system.
Such efforts are needed, with the national waiting list for kidneys growing quickly due to the epidemic of overweight Americans with diabetes and high blood pressure, which damage kidneys.
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Transplants from living donors accounted for more than a third of the 16,514 kidney transplants last year. Meanwhile, more than 78,000 Americans were waiting for a kidney and more than 4,000 died waiting in 2008.
Elizabeth Sleeman of the United Network for Organ Sharing, which runs the federal transplant system, cites estimates that paired donor chains could lead to 1,000 to 2,000 more kidney transplants a year.
“I think it definitely has that potential” to reduce the waiting list, she said.
Later this year UNOS plans to do a test run of matches among two-donor pairs — two kidney patients, each with an incompatible donor who matches the other patient. She hopes by late 2010 to be doing both donor pairs and chains nationally.