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VOL. 126 | NO. 127 | Thursday, June 30, 2011

Paired Transplants Make Local Debut

By Aisling Maki

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Tennessee’s first-ever paired kidney transplants, which involve living donors matched with patients through a national registry, were performed this week in Memphis by surgeons at Methodist University Hospital, 1265 Union Ave.

After waiting a year and five months for a kidney to become available, Linda Richmond of Memphis on Tuesday, June 28, underwent a transplant. On the same day, her sister, Vernita Jarman, underwent surgery to donate a kidney – but not to her sister.

Richmond’s son, an exact match, had originally stepped forward to donate his kidney to his mother, but was ruled out due to possible complications related to hypertension. So Jarman instead stepped in to donate a kidney to her sister, but it turned out she wasn’t a match.

Although another living donor was found for Richmond, Jarman decided to proceed with the donation; her kidney will go to a complete stranger in another state.

“There are no words that can describe it,” Richmond said. “‘Amazing’ doesn’t even describe it. She’s just like that.”

Paired donor transplantation allows patients who don’t have a compatible living kidney donor to be paired with another patient who also lacks a compatible living donor. These patients then “swap” donors.

The Methodist University Hospital Transplant Institute (MUHTI), in partnership with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, is working with the National Kidney Registry to help save additional lives in Memphis.

MUHTI said it’s the only transplant program in Tennessee doing paired donations.

“We feel this is an excellent opportunity for patients who need a kidney transplant and who do not have a compatible living donor to find the donor match they need significantly faster,” said Dr. Luis Campos, MUHTI kidney program surgical director. “Paired donor transplantation dramatically decreases the time it takes for NKR patients to receive a kidney and allows the patient to receive a closely matched kidney for the best outcome.”

The average wait time for a deceased donor kidney is still 48 months compared to about an 11-month wait for National Kidney Registry patients. The registry uses a sophisticated computer program to match paired living kidney donors with recipients. Participation is completely voluntary, with no cost to donors or recipients who chose to participate.

“The beauty of a living donor program is that it brings together the human elements of altruism, trust and cooperation,” said Dr. Vinaya Rao, medical director of the MUHTI kidney transplant program. “It can be very satisfying to be a part of that.”

Campos said that not long ago, the belief was that the donor and recipient’s procedures had to be performed in the same location, in adjoining operating room suites. But the National Kidney Registry changed the paradigm by transporting kidneys across the country.

The registry so far has facilitated nearly 300 transplants with a 100 percent success rate.

MUHTI each year transplants more than 100 kidneys, approximately 25 percent of which come from living donors. Living donor kidneys have a higher success rate mainly because of shorter preservation time and controlled surgical factors.

And paired donations could add as many as 2,000 to 3,000 more organs available for transplant patients across the U.S.

According to MUHTI, the number of people waiting for kidneys continues to increase, surpassing 60,000 in 2006, and today hovers at around 90,000. Yet, only 17,000 people a year receive kidney transplants.

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