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Three Southeast Michigan health systems collaborate for historic 3-way kidney swap

Posted October 23, 2015

Six lives, three kidneys and one goal. Thanks to a collaborative effort by three area health systems, the lives of six Michigan residents have changed for the better through an ultimate display of paying it forward: a historic 3-way kidney swap.

Three individuals needed life-saving kidney transplants. While they each had willing donors, they were not good matches. Kidney transplant teams from Beaumont Health, Henry Ford Health System and University of Michigan Health System worked together with the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network to find a kidney for each of their patients through a “paired donation” program. This program allows patients to sign up to receive a kidney from a living donor of a compatible blood type by having a donor give a kidney to another patient through a paired kidney exchange. In a rare turn of events, the Beaumont, Henry Ford Health System and U-M patients and their donors matched with each other, setting the wheels in motion for a kidney exchange involving three major kidney transplant centers in Southeast Michigan.

After nearly two months of meticulous planning, the organ procurement procedures and kidney transplants took place on July 22 in Ann Arbor, Detroit and Royal Oak. Today, three months after their surgeries, the recipients met their donors for the first time.

Paired donation

According to the United Network of Organ Sharing, or UNOS, which manages the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, “Kidney paired donation is a transplant option for candidates who have a living donor who is medically able, but cannot donate a kidney to their intended candidate because they are incompatible.” UNOS manages the nation’s transplant system and organ donor list.

UNOS started a pilot program in 2010. Since then, the number of procedures is growing, with more transplant centers participating.

Says Lauren Malinzak, M.D., transplant surgeon and director of the Kidney Paired Donation Program at the Henry Ford Transplant Institute at Henry Ford Hospital, “These kidney chains have linked thousands of people – nearly 4,000 people in the United States – since the practice began in the early 2000s. Paired kidney donation can shave months off the wait list for patients. And with the crucial need for donor kidneys, it can provide life-saving options. We’re excited to be part of the first one linking our three hospital systems in Southeast Michigan.”

Benefits of kidney paired donation:

  • Recipient receives a compatible, living donor kidney, that, on average, will last longer than a deceased donor kidney
  • Recipient may have a shorter wait for transplant
  • Recipient may also need less immunosuppressant drug therapy
  • Recipient may receive a transplant before dialysis
  • Rewarding for donor as family/friends benefit from their donation


Donors, recipients and physicians in the kidney swap.

Donors, recipients and physicians in the kidney swap.

With three pairs of patients from three medical centers, there was a great deal of planning and coordination to ensure the six procedures were done in a safe and timely manner. On Wednesday, July 22, all three donor kidneys were en route to their recipient’s medical centers between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

  • 11 a.m. Tricia Meyer’s kidney was transported from the U of M Medical Center in Ann Arbor to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit for Kim Yarbrough
  • 11:39 a.m. Tom Ash’s kidney was transported from Beaumont – Royal Oak to U of M Medical Center in Ann Arbor for David Hostetler
  • 1 p.m. Markesha Valentine’s kidney was transported from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit to Beaumont – Royal Oak for Lisa Ash

Explains John Magee, M.D., transplant surgeon and director of the University of Michigan Transplant Center, “This is a great example of what the gift of life can do. The impact of the extra effort associated with paired donation is well worth it. The University of Michigan is proud to be a part of this historic chain, and we hope to work with our partners at Beaumont and Henry Ford in the future on many more kidney paired donations – the more donors and transplant centers that participate in this program, the better!”

Post-op and beyond

What does the future hold for both the kidney recipients and donors? Dilip Samarapungavan, M.D., medical director, Multi-Organ Transplant Program, Beaumont Health, explains, “For the recipients of this precious gift, the journey is just beginning. Even as they recover from surgery there are frequent visits to the clinic, blood tests, ultrasounds, biopsies and the lifelong commitment to a complex and potent medication regime. Vigilance and monitoring are the price for a successful outcome.”

As for the donors, Samarapungavan says, “They typically resume their normal lifestyles. However, vigilance is important for donors, too. We request a comprehensive health screening at least once a year for the rest of their lives. Interestingly, kidney donors usually outlive their counterparts in the general population.”

Importance of kidney donations

On Oct. 16, 2,954 people were waiting for a kidney transplant at a center in Michigan.

To increase the availability of live donor kidneys, the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, has a Kidney Paired Donation Pilot Program. Nationwide, 155 kidney programs participate, including Beaumont Hospital – Royal Oak, Henry Ford Health System and University of Michigan Medical Center.  Since the program’s inception, 155 recipients have received a paired kidney donation through the OPTN program.

Adds Samarapungavan, “The need is great. In the long term, a deceased donor kidney on average lasts about 10-11 years, while a living donor kidney may last for 20-25 years. Living kidney donations indeed save lives. Paired donation offers this extraordinary opportunity where otherwise it may not be feasible to proceed with a live kidney donation.”

Recipient Kim Yarbrough, 52, of Detroit, involved in the kidney chain praises her daughter’s participation, “Oh, my God, first, Markesha is my hero. Without her, I couldn’t even begin to get in the program. And the individual who gave me the kidney is also my hero. And I just really, really feel so blessed.”

Source: University of Michigan Health System

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