Strangers Share the Gift of Life
Eight patients meet for first time following a four-way paired kidney exchange
Four kidney recipients met their donors today for the first time following a four-way paired kidney exchange that occurred at Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Kovler Organ Transplantation Center last week. A paired kidney exchange matches one incompatible donor-recipient pair to another to enable an exchange.
“Patients are often able to find a willing donor, but approximately one-third of the living donors who come to the hospital are not a match,” explained Joseph Leventhal, MD, PhD, director of Northwestern Memorial’s living donor kidney transplant program. “Paired exchanges are becoming more common and giving more patients the opportunity to find a compatible donor.”
The four-way exchange occurred last Thursday at Northwestern Memorial and involved eight surgeries and six surgeons. The eight donors and recipients range in age from 28 to 74 years old and hailed from Chicago and the suburbs. Recipients and donors remain anonymous until after the surgery when they are then given the option to meet their match. The pairs included a mother and daughter, husband and wife, and grandmother and granddaughter. The final pair was a letter carrier who chose to help a resident on her route in need of a transplant.
Jane Delimba, of Schaumburg, Ill., spent seven years on dialysis before receiving a kidney through the four-way exchange. Delimba’s luck changed after running into her former letter carrier Arlene Hoffman, of Schaumburg, Ill., at Walmart. Hoffman offered to help after hearing Delimba needed a transplant.
“I like it already; it’s going to be fun,” Delimba said of her life post-transplant. “Once I heal, I can travel and do things I haven’t done in seven years.”
The oldest patient involved in the paired exchange was Ineasie Lacefield, of Park Forest, Ill., who will celebrate her 75th birthday on Sunday with her children and grandchildren. “I’m proud I’m the oldest recipient and did as well as I did,” Lacefield said. “I’m looking forward to a better life. My energy level is better, I could feel that immediately.”
Paired exchanges have great potential to expand the living donor pool and help patients who may have run out of options. “When living donors come to Northwestern Memorial, they are notified that paired exchange is an option,” Leventhal said. “Members of the transplant team continuously search the database of donors and recipients for potential matches and contact them to see if they want to participate.”
Northwestern Memorial transplant surgeons performed their first paired exchange in 2006. To date, the hospital has completed 38 paired exchange transplants. “This transplant shows the impact strangers can have on one another and the importance of raising awareness about living donors and organ donation,” Leventhal said.
“A patient’s story does not have to end because he or she is incompatible with an intended donor. Paired exchanges allow donors to help their loved one while saving the life of someone they don’t know.”