Saturday, September 29, 2012

An unusual non-directed kidney donor

A recent kidney exchange NEAD chain (NEAD = non-simultaneous extended altruistic donor) began with quite an unusual altruistic donor. Apparently she first got the idea of donating one of her kidneys when she was just 8 years old. Here's the story:
Paying it forward: Oklahoma woman's kidney donation continues to help others.  Ever since she was a child, Liz Gay wanted to donate her kidney. At 31, she donated her kidney and made medical history. 

"It's not easy to explain now, but at 8 years old, Liz Gay knew that she would one day donate a kidney.
Not just knew — felt called by God.
"Gay is what's known as an altruistic donor, a healthy person who donated a kidney without a specific person in mind as the recipient. To start the donation process, Gay went to the Alliance for Paired Donation and signed up to donate.

"Once she passed through the screening and testing process, a recipient was selected, a man living across the Atlantic Ocean.

"Michalis Helmis, a resident of Greece, had been on dialysis for six years. Initially, his wife, Theodora Papaioannou-Helmis, signed up to be his donor. But when doctors ran the tests, they determined she wasn't a match.

"Theodora Papaioannou-Helmis spent the next two years lobbying Greek politicians to change the country's law restricting organ donation.

“The only reason I did that is I believed he could not be on dialysis for his whole life,” she said through a translator. “I just couldn't accept that, and I had to do it to get him well.”

"Under Greek law, only spouses and first-degree relatives could donate kidneys to other family members. Once the law was modified, the couple flew to Ohio.

"The agreement was that Gay's kidney would go to Michalis Helmis, and a few months later, Theodora Papaioannou-Helmis would come back to the states and donate her kidney to a man in Pennsylvania.

"Everything worked out as planned, and a few months later, Michalis Helmis feels healthier than he has in years. He still can't believe Gay's generosity."

That was, I think, the very first intercontinental exchange. I blogged earlier about it here:
Mike Rees and Greece: an intercontinental kidney exchange

The story about the Oklahoma donor includes a great line about Mike Rees:
"Dr. Michael Rees, the Alliance for Paired Donation chief executive officer, describes himself as “probably the biggest advocate of paired kidney donation.” 

1 comment:

Laurie said...

Thanks for the post, Al. As a follow up - Liz's chain is now up to 10 recipients, and includes another international pair. A brother/sister pair from Trinidad & Tobago was transplanted (the recipient lives in the US now, but his sister came from Trinidad to donate to a highly sensitized recipient in Colorado) and we hope the chain will continue soon.