Federal law

‘Kidney Exchange' Donors Meet Recipients for First Time at Northwestern

Participants in a “kidney exchange” chain met for the first time on Friday, as donors and recipients got to meet in an emotional event at Northwestern.

A group of donors met four grateful recipients, who were all part of an eight-person kidney swap. The surgeries to transplant the kidneys took place weeks ago, but all eight patients are now doing well.

“I’ve lived a long, healthy life, and now someone else can too,” donor Leo Tripolikatis said.

Tripolikatis donated his kidney to Lee Jenkins, who embraced him in a massive hug before turning to the microphone to discuss the surgery and the impact that it will have on his life.

“Every three months was a gamble of life for me,” he said. “Leo saved my life, and I love him for that.”

Leo’s wife Patricia was also part of the exchange, and she got a new kidney from Donna Spans.

“I just feel that I’m looking at a part of me just standing next to me,” Spans said. “Which is totally awesome. Now I get to visit my kidney whenever she is willing to give me an audience, so it’s awesome.”

Surprisingly, these types of kidney exchanges used to be illegal. Federal law used to liken these kinds of donations to “selling organs,” but all of that has now changed. And it has changed the life of people like Patricia Tripolikatis.

“I am so grateful,” she said. “Walking the halls in the hospital, I kept looking at all the other patients and saying that someone here is my angel.”

There are between 30 and 40 people that are on the list waiting for recipients to match their kidneys, according to Northwestern Hospital, and after encouraging people to sign up for the exchange, Dr. John J. Friedewald emphasized how inter-connected the new batch of donors will be for the rest of their lives.

“All of these people are now linked together forever in ways that they are about to find out,” he said. 

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