When Patti Ford and Robyn Bryan first met on a sunny July day, they threw their arms around each other and hugged, as if they were the best of friends. Truth be told, they were perfect strangers… strangers on their way to becoming a family.
A few weeks later, on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009, Robyn gave Patti one of her kidneys. In return, Patti’s husband, Patrick, gave Robyn’s husband, Paul, one of his kidneys. The landmark transplants, which took place on the same day, are the first “paired exchange kidney donations” to be performed south of Los Angeles County involving donors and recipients who did not know each other.
Transplant coordinator, Tina Kress, and Patrick Ford, listen as Patti Ford explains how great she feels.
UC San Diego Medical Center surgeons believe this “paired donation” procedure could benefit hundreds of patients each year. The same team performed the world’s first-ever “domino” liver transplant for maple syrup urine disease in 2004.
“Robyn gave me a better quality of life,” explained Patti Ford, who was on the national kidney transplant waiting list for four years, attending dialysis treatments three times a week for more than a year.
Dr. Ajai Khanna, Patrick Ford, Patti Ford, Paul Bryan, Robyn Bryan and Dr. Marquis Hart
Robyn and Patrick, the donors, were able to go home just two days after surgery. Patti and Paul followed a few days later. The two couples shared their story at a news conference on Monday, Aug. 24, 2009.
The story began when Patti, who has polycystic kidney disease, started looking for answers. Her mother died from the disease and Patti knew if she didn’t get a new kidney she would suffer the same fate. Her husband, Patrick, 42, wanted to donate but was not a match – she’s blood type A, he’s type B.
Patti asked UC San Diego Medical Center coordinator Tina Kress if there was a chance of finding another donor-recipient pair and swap kidneys.
That very day, Kress was preparing to call Paul Bryan – also suffering from polycystic kidney disease and facing dialysis – to give him bad news: his wife, Robyn, was not a match. “That’s when I made the connection,” said Kress. “The Bryans were exactly the kind of donor-recipient pair that Patti and Patrick needed.”
After many conversations and extensive medical testing, the day arrived: Robyn gave Patti her kidney. Patrick gave Paul his kidney. The transplant donors helped save their recipient and their own spouse. Each live donor was able to help save two lives.
“I knew I would do anything for him,” said Robyn of her husband, Paul. “And I felt like I knew them (the Fords) from somewhere. We had a connection.”
Paul Bryan added with a smile, “Somebody up there was watching out for us. I feel so much better than I’ve felt in the last year. I feel 20 years younger.”
In the United States, only about 600 paired kidney transplants have taken place in the last decade. Doctors believe the procedure could help hundreds more transplant patients per year if the idea is extended to regions and the nation. “Paired exchange donation could account for about five percent of kidney transplants and will continue to grow as UCSD gets involved in one of the national paired exchange programs,” added Marquis Hart, MD, professor of Surgery and Primary Surgeon for Abdominal Transplant Programs.
“There is a wide discrepancy between the number of patients awaiting kidney transplants and the number of available donor organs (via deceased donors),” explained Ajai Khanna, MD, PhD, professor of Surgery and Director of Abdominal Transplant Programs. “Live donation from a compatible donor helps circumvent this problem. The results are better than that of deceased donation.”
“What made this surgery additionally successful is that we used a laparoscopic, minimally invasive approach to do the donor operations,” added Khanna. “In one case we were able to use only two small incisions to remove the kidney. We are hoping the availability of this procedure at UCSD, and public awareness that paired donation is an option, will encourage more patients and their prospective donors to come consider this approach.”
The results of live donation are better than that of deceased donation across the board. Paired exchange donation will allow several patients who are on dialysis to get transplants sooner, thus circumventing dialysis-related morbidity and loss of time at work.
“Our transplant team has been so great. Our care was wonderful. I gave a kidney on a Wednesday and was home by Friday! I feel great!” said Robyn, who underwent minimally invasive donor nephrectomy.
“I am deeply satisfied with this outcome,” added Alexander Aussi, Center for Transplantation Service Line administrator. “Clearly, live donor swaps make a difference and we are interested in exploring this option further as part of a community effort involving local transplant centers.”
Patti Ford is already making plans to share her good news beyond her own community. “My goal is to get this message out to other people. Truly, I will help wherever I can as a speaker or an advocate. My experience here has been great.”
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