Five living donors have given five desperately ill people a kidney and a new life. None of the donors knew the recipients. And it was not until nearly a week after the surgery that the donors learned whose lives they had saved and the recipients were able to say "thank you."
The transplants took place simultaneously at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland: 12 surgeons, 18 nurses and dozens of support staff worked in six operating rooms. Here's how it worked:
Kristine, George, Gerald, Gary and Sheila needed kidneys. Each had a potential donor. Kristines's mother, Florence, was a good match for George. George's wife, Sharon, had the right tissue type for Gary. Doctors gave Leslie's kidney to Gerald, Sandra's kidney went to Sheila, Honore's kidney to Kristine. None of the donors was a good match for their original recipients, but they were good matches for one of the other patients needing kidneys.
Dr. Robert Montgomery led the surgical team. "These patients who are seated at my left participated in what is believed to be the first five-way domino kidney pair donation in the world."
Both donors and recipients are doing fine. All were moved by either saving a life or receiving a new life. Sheila Thornton received Sandra Loevner's kidney. "I can never thank her enough. How do you thank somebody who saved your life and made your life better?"
Dr. Montgomery called for clarification of a law that says organ swaps are to be made without an expectation of something valuable in return.
The transplants could not have happened if the donors did not agree to a swap that would save the life of their intended recipient while saving the life of their actual recipient. "The legality of what we have done here is unclear. Yet no one who has a mind or a heart could say that it is wrong."
Dr. Montgomery said a kidney swap program could help ease the severe shortage of available organs, cut the cost of dialysis and save lives.