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Paired kidney exchange provides a sister’s gift of life

By The Health News Team | February 14, 2022
Donna Dupont of San Diego

Sharp Memorial Hospital staff connected Donna to her sister Denise on the East Coast via a video teleconference system on the day of their surgeries.

Donna Dupont of San Diego knew something was wrong when her sister, Denise Andrews, didn’t return her phone call one day in February 2020. Her instincts were right. Across the country, thousands of miles away, Denise was hospitalized with kidney failure in New Hampshire, where she lives with her husband.

“Denise hardly complains, she’s positive and energetic,” says Donna, 57. “But for two years, she’d been saying she was exhausted, and that getting through the day was tough.”

Denise, 62, a special education teacher, immediately started dialysis. In the meantime, she began searching for a living kidney donor.

Her son in New York City seemed like a great match — they shared the same blood type. However, an ultrasound showed that he had a horseshoe kidney, a condition in which the kidneys are joined together in a horseshoe shape. Although he did not have any symptoms or complications, his condition prevented him from donating.

“Two other family members were willing to donate, but one suffered a shoulder injury and needed surgery, and another became ill,” says Denise. “I began to not get my hopes up for a transplant out of fear of being disappointed again.”

Despite the setbacks, Denise and her family persisted in finding a donor. Although she lived far from her sister, Donna tried everything she could to help, including learning more about the National Kidney Registry.

“I didn’t want my sister to feel alone,” says Donna. “I told her, ‘We are in this together. The weight of the world isn’t on your shoulders.’”

Paired exchange program provides hope
Incompatible blood types prevented Donna from donating a kidney to her sister. But Donna discovered the National Kidney Foundation’s paired exchange program, through which she could donate her kidney to a matching recipient and a matching donor could donate their kidney to Denise. Denise’s hospital in Boston connected Donna to Sharp HealthCare’s Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program.

“Sharp’s amazing team walked me through the necessary tests to see if I could be a donor,” says Donna. “They made my blood work, EKG and ultrasound tests a breeze.”

In November 2021, Donna received the news that she could donate her kidney to a recipient in Los Angeles, and that Denise would receive a kidney from a donor in Boston.

“Donna didn’t tell me that she was involved until every detail was confirmed,” says Denise. “I cried when I found out. I had absolutely no idea.”

Saving her sister’s life from afar
On December 14, 2021, the same day Donna had surgery to donate her kidney at Sharp Memorial Hospital, Denise also had surgery to receive the kidney from her donor in Boston.

“Donna’s procedure went well, and she is a great patient: collaborative and eager to learn about the kidney transplant process,” says Dr. Marquis Hart, a transplant surgeon affiliated with Sharp Memorial Hospital. “Through the paired exchange program, Donna was able to have her surgery done here close to her home, which aids in the recovery process.”

A week after her procedure, Donna was back to driving and feeling fine. Denise, too, says she is feeling great.

“My new kidney is working fantastically, and it’s like I’m a regular person again,” says Denise. “I am, of course, so thankful for my donor in Boston, but I am also blessed to have a sister who helped make this happen. Not many people know how debilitating dialysis is. It lets you live, but it doesn’t give you your life.”

Donna feels proud to be a living kidney donor. “There’s nothing to fear about being one,” she says. “There are way more positive things about it than anything negative, and it’s amazing to save someone’s life.”

Learn more about living kidney donation at Sharp HealthCare.

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