April 8, 2008 -- In a rare medical event, four kidney donors gave the gift of life to four recipients when they underwent simultaneous transplant surgeries at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital on April 3.
One of the nation's largest paired exchanges began when four people, including Niral Patel and Pierre Kattar Sr. , went to the hospital in need of kidney transplants. They discovered that their intended donors weren't matches.
Patel's mother, Vina Patel, intended to donate an organ to her 25-year-old son, who suffers from polycystic kidney disease and was on his fourth kidney.
Meanwhile, Kattar's son and namesake had planned to donate to his father, as another parent-child pair, Crusita Nieves and Griselle Ortiz, prepared for a kidney donation.
Ortiz had hoped to donate a kidney to her mother, while a woman named Alice Smith also was in need of a kidney but had no donor.
While the initial intended donors turned out not to match the would-be recipients, the hospital realized crossover matches existed among the couples after outside donor and Northwestern Memorial employee Doug Penrod was added to the mix.
The 17-year transplant nurse was a match for Nieves while Ortiz matched Kattar Sr.; Kattar Jr. matched Niral Patel; and Vina Patel matched Smith. The recipients had never met their donors before this encounter.
The group, with ages from 25 to 65, simultaneously underwent a day of surgeries in three different operating rooms with six surgeons and 26 other clinicians to complete the transplants. The surgeries were performed simultaneously as a way to ensure that the donors would follow through on their promise, in a procedure where even determined donors could have a change of heart.
"We're just trying to save our loved ones and we all managed to do it together," the elder Kattar said. "The domino kind of happens. It's awesome."
Penrod, the nurse, who decided to become a blind donor after his plans to donate to a friend fell through, said, it was "the right thing to do. I've seen what it can do to not only improve quality but the quantity of life someone will have after the transplant. To me it seemed pretty much like a no-brainer."
Transplant surgeon Dr. Joseph Leventhal said the implications of the operation are profound and the impact on the health of the recipients will be measured in years.
Leventhal, who is director of the living donor kidney transplant program at Northwestern Memorial, said the doctors hope this will be the transplant of the future.
So called domino-paired exchanges like this allow living donors to guarantee their loved ones get the kidney they so desperately need, even if they can't be the ones to donate it.