Kindness seems to be contagious at Loyola University Medical Center.
Five of the Maywood hospital's employees have donated kidneys to complete strangers since last year, and two others were good Samaritan kidney donors to casual acquaintances.
The altruistic donors -- nicknamed "The Seven Sisters of Loyola" -- appear to have set a world record for the most employees of a single company donating kidneys to non-relatives, hospital officials said Wednesday.
The women said they had no other motive for becoming living donors than to give others a second chance at life.
Kidneys are the most in-demand donor organs. Every year, thousands of Americans die while waiting for one.
The majority of transplanted kidneys come from deceased donors or from relatives or close friends who agree to donate to someone they know. So-called good Samaritan, or altruistic, donors are more rare.
Dr. Paul K. Whelton, president and chief executive officer of Loyola University Health System, said the Seven Sisters’ record-setting generosity "is just one of the many instances at Loyola in which our employees demonstrate their commitment to upholding our Catholic-Jesuit tradition of Magis, which challenges us to do more."
The first altruistic donor was Dr. Susan Hou, medical director of Loyola’s renal transplant program, who made headlines in 2002 when she gave a kidney to one of her patients, Hermelinda Gutierrez. At the time, she was believed to be the first U.S. physician to donate a kidney to a patient.
Hou said she got the idea to donate 30 years earlier when a close friend suffered kidney failure and needed a transplant.
Barbara Thomas, an administrative secretary in Loyola’s kidney transplant program, followed Hou’s lead when she donated a kidney to her 34-year-old tenant, James Love, in 2009.
The transplant allowed Love — who suffered from kidney failure as a result of sickle cell anemia -- to get off dialysis and get back to playing catch with his son and being able to “sit and talk with my daughter," he said.
"That stuff is priceless, and she gave it all back to me," Love said of Thomas.
Five other Loyola employees gave kidneys to complete strangers in 2010.
They are: credentialing coordinator Cristina Lamb, whose kidney went to a Rockford man; dental hygienist Jodi Tamen, whose kidney went to a poet in California; Dorothy Jambrosek, administrative director of the Graduate Medical Education Program; registered nurse Jane Thomas; and Cynthia Blakemore, manager of Loyola’s clinical laboratory department.