Unique kidney operation is performed at U

Craig Gustafson

University physicians performed one of the most unique operations in the history of the Fairview-University Medical Center last month.
Physicians took a kidney from an anonymous donor and transplanted it to a patient with no intention of ever having the two meet.
The anonymity of both parties made the transplant the first of its kind nationwide, said Dr. Arthur Matas.
The donor, a 50-year-old woman, approached the medical center last October and told officials she wanted to donate one of her kidneys to someone in need.
The hospital had only authorized the use of anonymous donors a few months before her request, said Matas, who led one of surgical teams.
Matas said the donor and recipient never met before or after the surgery and both would like to keep it that way.
Hospital officials wouldn’t say what day the transplant took place to ensure anonymity, but said both patients are doing well.
Two teams of surgeons worked simultaneously on both patients to reduce the waiting time between transfer of the organ. When the organ comes from a cadaver, it has to be preserved for several hours, which can hamper the success of a transplant.
“Using a living donor negates the need for preservation,” Matas said. “A living donor increases the success rate of the transplant by 10 percent in the first year and by 20 percent after five years.”
The entire operation took only five hours, though the process leading up to the life-saving day was a journey that took many months.
Cathy Garvey, the transplant coordinator at the medical center, emphasized that someone couldn’t simply walk into the hospital and donate a kidney, though a few have offered.
“We have records of eight people volunteering as donors,” Garvey said. Unfortunately, the other seven didn’t pass physical tests.
Since the transplant’s success, several more people have come forward, including three this week.
“First we need to ensure that they are competent in making decisions freely when they decide to be an anonymous donor,” said Cheryl Jacobs, a social worker on the transplant team. “We run a battery of tests that reinforce the surgeons.”
Deborah Roman, a clinical psychologist, conducted the personality and psychological testing.
“It’s a safeguard to protect both parties,” she said. “We need to know the donor is donating from the goodness of her heart and not because of ulterior motives.”
The surgery itself is the biggest risk for the donor because there are no physical benefits besides the satisfaction of a good deed, Matas said.
He said donating a kidney need not affect one’s lifestyle. Studies have shown that people born with one kidney can lead full and productive lives. Recovery after surgery, though, takes an average of six weeks.
“The whole thing (from testing to operation) usually takes three to four months,” Garvey said. “This, however, was a special circumstance, so we took a little longer to make sure we did everything right.”
Jeffrey Kahn, director of the University’s Center for Bioethics, said nothing like this has ever been done before, so a select group of advisers met on a regular basis to explore all of the ethical and legal issues.
“This is unprecedented,” he said. “Anonymous donation is a growing area of organ donation, and we’ll be at the forefront.”
The national kidney transplant waiting list is 42,907 names long, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. That comprises more than 65 percent of the people waiting for any organ transplant.
“The problem is: How do you allocate where a donor kidney should go?” Matas said. In this case, he said a computer chose the recipient based on a combination of waiting time and donor matching.
The donor’s request to remain unknown made the feat even more impressive to the hospital staff.
“Our donor wanted to remain anonymous,” Kahn said. “That takes much more altruism … and got one more person off the waiting list.”

Craig Gustafson covers the Medical School and welcomes comments at [email protected] or phone calls at 627-4070 x3233.