'Kidney Chains' connect donors, patients

WESTWOOD, Calif. Surgeons at UCLA Medical Center just performed one of the first transcontinental "living donor" kidney transplant chains.

Organ donations is a tricky business. Despite the complexity of a transplant, finding enough people to donate is often the most difficult part.

Three lives in Southern California changed for the better by one kidney from a donor in New York.

"Her generosity has permitted a chain to develop," said Dr. Gabriel Danovitch, UCLA Kidney Transplant Program.

It's called a "donor chain," a relatively new concept. In this case, Pam Heckathorn needed a kidney, but her cousin wasn't a match. So his kidney went to Marisela Carbajal. Her husband then donated a kidney to Inocenta Platte. Platte's son, in return, will donate a kidney that will go to an as-yet-undetermined person. And Pam Heckathorn? She received a kidney from that anonymous donor in New York.

"The kidney was perfect, started working even before he unclamped it," said Heckathorn at a news conference. "So we are very thankful, and I'm doubly thankful to the altruistic donor. Because without her, none of us would be here."

In the past, the way it would work is one person would donate to a friend or a relative. That was one person affecting one person's life.

But now one organ donation can literally start a chain reaction and change thousands of lives.

"With this program, you could potentially give one kidney and it could trigger a chain of hundreds or even thousands of kidney transplants," said UCLA transplant surgery Dr. Jeffrey Veale.

"The more people we have in the system, the better the matches. The better the matches, the longer the kidney lasts," said Garet Hil, NationalKidneyRegistry.org.

So not just more kidneys are available, but kidneys that will function better and longer. A tricky business now less tricky.


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