HOUSTON - Surgeons at Houston Methodist Hospital were able to perform a five-way kidney swap with living donors.
This is rare at any time, but especially difficult to pull-off during a pandemic.
This involved five people, each in desperate need of a kidney to save their life, plus five loved ones, willing to give the ultimate gift of their own kidney. That led to ten patients in operating rooms for the rare kidney swap.
“Now the way swaps work is, that if your donor doesn't match with you for blood type or antibodies, you go into the swap. I think one of the important things about the swap and the five way swap that was done here is that there were people in it who could have donated directly to the recipient, but they actually elected to go into the pool, so they could allow more and more people to be transplanted,” explains Dr. Hassan Ibrahim, Chief of Kidney Disease and Transplantation at Houston Methodist Hospital.
The swap began with Tara Berliski, who's being called the "Good Samaritan Donor". She agreed to swap her healthy kidney for a stranger, even though she was a perfect match for her husband.
“I said, that's great! I'm good for either way, as long as my husband gets saved and he gets a kidney and I give a kidney, and it doesn't matter how many people it affects. I'm good with that,” states Tara.
Her husband, HB, thought the idea was amazing.
“I had no idea that they could do that. I found out that with my blood type A/B positive, I can take a donated kidney from just about anybody, which I didn't know,” says HB.
His wife, Tara, had the opportunity to help another patient who needed a specific donor.
“She’s A+, which is a little rare, but she also has some proteins and tissue matching that were kind of rare. So she could have donated to me, but someone who had been waiting much, much longer would benefit as well. So we said, if it's going to help someone else out and I get a kidney, let's go for it. And so we did, and she ended up helping someone who'd been having trouble since he was a child,” smiles HB.
To save HB's life from his kidney disease, doctors had already removed both of his kidneys and he was relying on dialysis to keep him alive. A new kidney would be a game-changer for him and his quality of life.
“This transplant surgery, I'm telling you it was night and day! I mean I'm already moving around great and it's only been nine days,” says HB.
At the same time he was receiving his new kidney, the other four pairs were preparing for surgery, including a mother and son, sisters, cousins, and a pair of colleagues.
“So when we get excited about the swaps, I think to me what it means is that somebody has gone even beyond the exceptional gift of kidney donation to actually make the gift, touch more people. The innovative part I think the swaps are time-consuming, it takes a lot of coordination, but none of it would happen if it wasn't for these incredible people,” states Dr. Ibrahim.
Dr. Ibrahim explains each team had their own surgeon and surgical team to make it happen.
Ma Teresa Salcedo was a donor, but says she doesn't feel like the hero the doctor describes. Her motherly instincts kicked-in to save her son. She was a match, but because of their age difference, she joined the swap, so he'd still get a kidney from someone closer to his age and she could help someone else.
“As a mother, you do whatever you want to do for your kids. I was a little nervous, but the experience with the people with the doctors and nurses made me feel comfortable, it was a good experience,” Salcedo explains.
Her son, Misael Gonzalez, was exhausted from dealing with life-long kidney disease and welcomed the transplant.
“I immediately felt the difference. All the energy came back. I was more aware, able to focus more,” exclaims Misael.
He and his mother say it has been incredible to join others in the swap and have them now as their support group.
“I think it all starts with Houston Methodist. They have the system down. They do about 250 transplants a year, which is quite a lot and so, the more you do that, the more experience you get. It starts with that and they do a really good job of making sure that you meet your donor. Personally, I feel like I have a connection with my donor Sam. I look forward to getting to know her at a deeper level, now that we have something in common,” says Misael.
“This has been one of the most impressive things about the Houston, is people's willingness to be in the swap, rather than just going directly to the recipient, and it's quite admirable,” says Dr. Ibrahim.
All ten of the patients are recovering from surgery without complications. The five recipients will take anti-rejection drugs for life, but say it will be well worth it.
For more information, https://www.houstonmethodist.org/transplant/kidney