Physicians at the Miami Transplant Institute (MTI) at the UHealth/Jackson Memorial Medical Center hit a milestone performing the first four-way paired kidney exchange transplant in Florida. The simultaneous surgeries, which involved four donors and four recipients took place on April 9, and was made possible through the highly recognized Paired Kidney Exchange Program-the only initiative of its kind in the region.
“It is the heart and soul of the kidney program because it generates the best results,” said Giselle Guerra, MD, medical director of the Living Donor Kidney Program. “The patients do not have to linger on a waiting list; and it lessens the amount of time a patient needs to be on dialysis because they can be transplanted at any point with a living donor.”
April marks “Donate Life Month” and this four-way paired procedure that took place concurrently, made it a historic moment for MTI.
The pairs consisted of three married couples, along with a mother and her son.
The Patients/ Stories
For more than a decade, 64-year-old John Russell suffered from Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA-s), known as a “warning stroke,” caused by a temporary decrease in blood supply to the brain. During a hospital visit in Chicago for TIA-s, his blood pressure was 320/182, which severely damaged his kidneys. After a few doctor visits, he was told it was only a matter of time before his kidneys ceased to function and that he would require dialysis. Eight years later, after having moved to South Florida, John found hope at MTI.
John’s wife, Patricia was willing to donate, and was found to be a match. However, the couple signed up for the Paired Kidney Exchange Program after being informed a better match could be obtained. The program ultimately saved his life.
“The entire Jackson Health System team, including the MTI personnel and all Jackson Memorial staff were, and continue to be, incredible,” said John. “They are professional, detail oriented, technically proficient, and extremely knowledgeable. I’m not even sure how to describe them except, as wonderful angels.”
Patricia added, “The surgery and hospital care at Jackson Memorial was world class. Like John, I would recommend MTI to anyone in South Florida who is considering a kidney transplant.”
Bonnie Glover, 54, received the same type of selfless love and support from her husband Craig. Best friends and married for 35 years, Craig was always there for his wife to accomplish her professional and personal goals. When she got sick and was placed on dialysis, he sought help and came across the Paired Kidney Exchange Program.
“My primary motivations were to help her live a full, long, healthy life, that would allow her to be a part of our sons’ lives for many, many years to come,” Craig said. "As a bonus, I am also able to help someone who I do not yet know to also receive the gift of life.”
This selfless act turned Bonnie’s life around.
“He is my best friend, my hero - he saved my life and someone else's too! I am so very blessed,” said Bonnie.
Marilyn Huggins, 36, started having kidney failure in 2013. She spent most of her day in bed from excruciating pain and was having trouble to even get up at all. After her diagnosis, she began dialysis and was placed on the waiting list in January 2014. It was then that Marilyn found the Paired Kidney Exchange Program. She and her husband, Randy Martinez, signed up.
“My husband, Randy, is my angel. He didn’t think twice,” said Marilyn. “I am excited for the future. I can spend more time with my son and my family.”
Taylor Kroeger, 22, had already received a kidney from his father at 18-months-old. By the time he was 21, and a junior in college, his donated kidney was rapidly failing. His mother, Deanna, urgently looked for alternatives. They came to MTI where they learned about the Paired Kidney Exchange Program. Although Deanna was not a match for her son, there was still a solution.
“This was perfect for us since I had planned on donating anyway,” stated Deanna Kroeger. “I loved the idea that I could help someone and my son would get a good match as well. They gave my son a chance at a healthy life again.”
The team of transplant surgeons, nurses, and other medical staff performed the lifesaving surgeries for the patients on Thursday, April 9, at Jackson Memorial. The surgeries prevailed and all the patients are recovering well.
The Paired Kidney Exchange Program provides an opportunity for patients that cannot be transplanted otherwise, such as with 3 of the 4 paired exchange recipients in this particular case that were highly sensitized. There was less than a 10% chance of finding compatible donors for which they would not reject, had it not been for this established program in our region.
During the press conference Thursday, the recipients of the kidneys will meet for the first time, the individuals who nobly donated their kidneys and express their gratitude for this life-altering experience.