Christiana Care performs Delaware’s first paired, living kidney transplant procedures

Christiana Care performs Delaware’s first paired, living kidney transplant procedures

In Delaware's first paired living kidney donor transplant, Veronica James received a new kidney with the help of a kidney donation by her daughter, even though they were not a physical match.

Veronica James needed a new kidney. Her daughter, Roberta Lynn Ratliff, wanted to give her one of her kidneys. Unfortunately, Roberta and Veronica were not a physical match for a kidney transplant, which made Roberta’s wish to help her mother seem unlikely to happen.

But there was another option—Christiana Care’s Kidney Transplant team joined forces with the National Kidney Registry’s paired living transplant program. The program creates a “chain of life” by matching willing donors with waiting recipients who, in turn, have their own paired donor willing to “pay it forward” to someone else.

On Sept. 1, 2010, after it was determined that Roberta’s kidney was not an option, Christiana Care entered Veronica into the National Kidney Registry. Through paired living kidney donation, wait time for a viable kidney donor is about 10 months, compared to almost four years of waiting for a kidney from a deceased donor.

For Veronica, the chain linked even faster.

On Oct. 7, a match was identified from an altruistic donor in New York, who, amazingly, did not enter the registry paired with a loved one needing a kidney, but simply wanted to help someone. Based on blood type and a host of other medical matchmaking, Veronica was that lucky someone.

On Nov. 18, Veronica received her new kidney at Christiana Hospital. That same day, in an operating room just down the hall, her daughter Roberta’s kidney was removed and flown to Texas to a recipient, whose paired donor gave a kidney to someone else on the registry, living in Chicago.

Veronica and Roberta’s surgeries mark the first paired living kidney donation in Delaware. The transplant team hopes it will be the first of many such dual procedures at Christiana Care.

The best part of having a new kidney, says Veronica, is no longer having to go through treatments (for 16 months, she underwent treatments three days a week, each lasting up to four hours), and having the time and energy to spend with her grandchildren. She is grateful to the stranger who gave her a new lease on life, and even more thankful and proud of her daughter’s willingness to help someone else on her behalf.

Paired kidney donations lengthen chain

Sidney (John) Swanson, M.D., chief of Transplant Surgery, explains that for living donors, having their kidney become part of a paired donation is the next best thing to donating the organ directly to a family member, co-worker or friend.

“Certainly the goal is for the donor’s kidney to go directly to a loved one in need,” said Dr. Swanson. “But just because the donor and recipient aren’t a match for one another doesn’t mean they can’t be part of this amazing life-changing chain. This proves that paired living transplants are not just happening in big cities like New York, Baltimore or Los Angeles. The next chain of life can start right here in Delaware.”

Currently there are about 350 patients on the waiting list for donated kidneys at Christiana Care, among the 87,000 people listed nationwide.

Basic requirement for donors:

  • Desire to help someone else, whether loved one or stranger.
  • General good health with normal kidney function.
  • Healthy lifestyle.
  • 18-65 years of age (some exceptions made after age 65).

Correction (Jan. 7, 2011): The original version of  this article incorrectly stated the age requirement for donors as 8-65.