This article was originally featured in HealthHub: The Brigham and Women’s Hospital Health Blog.
In 2012, Christine Gentry, a high school teacher, was scrolling through Facebook and came across a post from an old friend. In the post, her friend, Julia, sadly announced that she was suffering from kidney failure and needed a kidney transplant. All of Julia’s family members had been tested, but none were suitable donors for her. Julia was sending a final plea.
Christine immediately contacted Julia and offered to help. After testing, Christine was told that she was not a direct match for Julia, but she was an ideal living kidney donor who may still be able to help Julia through a paired exchange donation.
Good Samaritan Donation
Christine was entered into a database through the National Kidney Registry to determine if her donation to another person may lead to a match for Julia. Ultimately, Julia received a transplant through paired exchanged donation with the National Kidney Registry via a different donor.
“The changes in Julia after her transplant were amazing,” said Christine. “She was vibrant again, and she even went on to become pregnant and start a family.”
Christine was so touched by Julia’s story and phenomenal recovery that she decided to move forward with becoming a living kidney donor in order to help others in need. Christine qualified to be a Good Samaritan donor (non-directed donor), a person who donates to a stranger in order to initiate a chain of transplants.
Chain of Surgeries
Earlier this year, Christine donated one of her kidneys at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) through the BWH Living Donor Program. Her donation ultimately removed 28 people across the country from the transplant list through a chain of surgeries that took less than six weeks to complete. This summer, Christine met Henrietta, the final recipient of the chain, who was also treated at BWH.
“We have seen through Christine and other selfless donors, the impact that the gift of living donation has on the thousands of people who are suffering from kidney failure,” said Kristen Pelletier, BWH Living Donor Nurse Coordinator. “Without living donors, many people will not survive while waiting for a viable kidney. In addition, kidneys donated through living donors generally last many years longer than those from deceased donors.”
Being a Living Donor
At BWH, our team has pioneered minimally invasive approaches to kidney donation using tiny ports, laparoscopic instruments, and a small incision (about two to three inches long) below the navel. Benefits of this approach include less pain, shorter hospitalization, and a faster return to everyday activities. The traditional surgery requires an incision that is about 10 inches long, made through the abdominal muscles. The BWH transplant team has had tremendous success with this technique, performing over 300 procedures without any major complications. The Division of Transplant Surgery recently established the Living Donor Program, which features a team of nurses and physicians dedicated exclusively to the care of potential living donors.
“Our Living Donor Program enables us to focus on the needs of living donors, from initial evaluation to surgical excellence and expert care after donation and transplantation is complete,” said Dr. Stefan Tullius, Chief of the Division of Transplant Surgery at BWH.