"Donor Chains" a Radical Change to Kidney Donation

Loyola University Medical Center launches "Pay it Forward" transplant program

By Charlie Wojciechowski
|  Tuesday, Mar 30, 2010  |  Updated 5:15 PM CDT
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Rather than match available kidneys to compatible donors on a one-to-one basis, "donor chains" allow incompatible donors to offer their kidney for a loved one even if he or she doesn’t use it.

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It is rare for a Good Samaritan to come forward and offer their kidney to a total stranger with no strings attached.  But at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, it has happened five times.

"This is completely unique and unheard of," said Garet Hill, founder of the National Kidney Registry, which coordinated the donations.

Loyola is using the donations to start its "Pay It Forward" transplant program.

Rather than match available kidneys to compatible donors on a one-to-one basis, these "donor chains" allow incompatible donors to offer their kidney for a loved one even if he or she doesn’t use it. The organ is matched to needy recipients through a computer database, then harvested, packed on ice, and shipped to where it is needed.

"This represents a spectacular improvement in our nation’s approach to living donor kidney donation," said Loyola transplant surgeon Dr. John Milner.  Donor chains can expand the pool of donors and dramatically reduce the time recipients spend on waiting lists, he said.  

"If you are waiting for a kidney, and have someone who is willing to be a chain donor, you can be transplanted today."

Two of the donations at Loyola have already taken place.  Others will happen over the next few weeks.

One of the donors is Christina Lamb. Her husband received a kidney five years ago and she says she feels an obligation to give back. Before her donation, almost two weeks ago, Lamb says she never had a doubt or a second thought.

"I actually slept better knowing somebody is going to benefit from a changed life," she said.

The life she changed was Robert Rylko’s. The 21-year-old Rockford man spent three hours a day on dialysis three times each week.  He's now looking forward to a full life with his new kidney.

"It’s great," he said. "There is no possible way to thank her enough." 

Dr. Susan Hou donated a kidney to one of her patients seven years ago and has become a  firm believer in the new program.

"If you think about it, it stops being a radical idea," she said.  "It seems like we should have thought of this before."

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