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Longest Living Kidney Donor Chain in Kansas City

January 31, 2018

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — An act of extreme kindness by one man sparked a chain of giving and receiving among 10 people for a total of 5 kidney transplants over 2 days at The University of Kansas Health System. It's the longest living internal kidney donor transplant chain in the Kansas City area.

A total of 10 surgeries took place Monday, January 29, and Tuesday, January 30 – 5 surgeries to remove the living donor kidneys and 5 surgeries to implant the gift of life into waiting recipients. The donors and recipients were all doing well following their surgeries and continue to heal.

"These 5 patients were transplanted by the gift of 5 people willing to donate and helped by the hard work and contribution of nurses, coordinators and operating room teams," Timothy Schmitt, MD, director of transplantation at The University of Kansas Health System says. "It was an awesome 2 days."

The chain began when a donor who was not a good match for his friend was willing to give his kidney to a stranger. His act of kindness inspired others wanting to help loved ones who were also a mismatch.

"Kidney chains like this often begin with a single person willing to give their healthy kidney to someone in need," says Jaime Bartley, MSN, RN, and organ transplant manager at The University of Kansas Health System. "We realized we had a chain of potential donors and recipients. Everyone was eager to help when they realized the potential to save lives."

Living Donor Kidney Chain

There are hundreds of patients at the health system listed for a kidney transplant and often with living donors who are not a direct match. Bartley and physicians agree the complexity of coordinating multiple evaluations, pre-operative visits, surgeries and the followup care is possible at the health system because of the breadth and depth of the transplant team.

"While our transplant team has the confidence to do what it takes to benefit our patients, none of this would have been possible without the selfless actions of the organ donors," says Sean Kumer, MD, PhD, physician vice president of operative services at The University of Kansas Health System. "It takes that first anonymous donor willing to donate a kidney to someone they don't know and may never meet to get the chain started."

"It is not uncommon for donors to be incompatible with their intended recipient because of blood type or other complications," says Amna Ilahe, MBBS, former director of the living donor program. "This even shows how creative transplantation can get to make sure a living donor's desire to help a friend or family member is realized."

Diane Cibrik, MD, MS, medical director of kidney transplantation, notes live patient kidney donations provide better outcomes for patients, including longer life for the transplanted organ. This, Dr. Cibrik says, was another motivating factor that led to staff working hundreds of hours to create the complex chain.

"A chain of 4 patients is very common in transplantation. Every time you add another person to the chain, it adds more planning. That's why this region has never seen a 10-person chain before. Now that we have done a 10-person chain, we feel we can work together to build larger chains including some chains that go on for years," Dr. Cibrik says.

Although the surgeries were all performed at The University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas, people in the chain came from Independence, Missouri; Wichita, Kansas; Manhattan, Kansas; and other hometowns not released out of respect for patients' requests for privacy.

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