August 1, 2008
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The first-ever, three-time-zone, simultaneous "kidney swap" took place Wednesday morning, July 30, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Hospital, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and University of Colorado Hospital, as three transplant recipients underwent surgery at the same time and received lifesaving organs from virtual strangers.
Such "kidney swaps" result when an incompatible donor/recipient pair is found to be a good match with another incompatible pair. The recipients then "swap" donors. In this case there were three pairs: a man from Colorado, Slavo Mrva, flew to UAB to give a kidney to the UAB patient, Marilyn Brownlee. Mrs. Brownlee's husband Homer traveled to Wake Forest to donate a kidney to a waiting recipient. That recipient's willing donor traveled to Colorado to donate a kidney to Mr. Mrva's wife. All donors and recipients are in good condition.
The matches were made through a computer matching program offered by the Alliance for Paired Donation, a Toledo-based non-profit organization that seeks to shorten the waiting time for kidney recipients through kidney paired donation. Many people on the waiting list for a kidney have a relative or friend who is willing to donate, but as many as one-third of potential transplants are not performed due to blood group or tissue incompatibility between living donors and kidney-failure patients.
"It is wonderful that Mrs. Brownlee and Mr. Mrva are doing so well," said Carlton Young, M.D., Brownlee's transplant surgeon. "This is a great thing these donors were all able to do for the recipients and for their loved ones."
"Both the donor and recipient are doing great. A lot of organization, hard work and sacrifice were needed to get this accomplished. It's great to see the swap worked out so well for everyone involved," said Michael Hanaway, M.D., Mrva's surgeon.
These types of "kidney swaps" require careful orchestration and complex logistics. None of the pairs is supposed to know the identities of the other pair. Anonymity is necessary in order to minimize the chance that either pair might decide not to go through with the operations. Patients are placed under anesthesia simultaneously for the same reason. When admitted to the hospital, they are assigned to different nursing units, go to different pre- and post-operative areas and return to separate nursing units afterwards. Their families wait in different areas, also. Only after the transplant do the recipient and donor have the opportunity to meet. Brownlee and Mrva met for the first time Thursday afternoon, July 31.
UAB has the second largest kidney transplant program in the nation. Since 1987, UAB has performed more kidney transplants than any other kidney program in the United States, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. More than half of the hospital's annual 250-300 kidney transplants involve living donors.