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Members of kidney transplant chains meet

June 15, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
It was an amazing re-union at UCLA Monday where seven of nine members of two kidney transplant chains gathered for the first time since their surgery last week."It's such an incredible gift , God put us together for for a reason I'm so grateful," said Valinda Jones, transplant recipient.

Nicole Lanstrom started one of the two chains, donating her kidney to Valinda Jones. UCLA video captured their first meeting.

Lanstrom, an Air Force intelligence officer is an altruistic donor, not linked to a specific kidney patient. She just wanted to make the world a better place, by donating a kidney to a stranger.

"It's a phenomenal feeling. I didn't even realize how I would feel until I met my recipient and you can just see the tears of joy and relief from their family and its very exciting," said Lanstrom.

Sometimes patients who need kidneys have willing donors who are not a match for them. In a kidney chain, their donor's kidney is given to a patient they match, and a second kidney is found for the patient whose loved one made the initial donation.

The two chains that underwent surgery at UCLA last week are unique because together they involve nine patients, seven at UCLA and two at other hospitals.

"I'm glad I can pee. I hadn't gone to the bathroom in two months. Reggie here saved my life," said Keenan Cheung.

Cheung received a kidney in the second chain. It was started by Michigan firefighter Harry Damon in honor of his 24-year-old son, killed in a snowmobile accident.

"It really brought me a sense of joy to be part of this," said Damon.

The two chains freed at least six kidney patients from their dialysis machines. Their generosity helped start chains at other transplant centers.

"Miracle of miracles to be a part of a chain like this. Not only could I help my best friend, but all these other people who are going to be healed. It's huge," said Sarah Dutkevitch, kidney donor.

All of the patients and donors are grateful to the doctors and staff at UCLA Medical Center for organizing the chains, and performing the surgeries. They hope their stories will inspire more people to donate a kidney for the thousands of dialysis patients who need one.

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