Kidney Paired Donation: New Strategy to Benefit Transplant Patients

Ken and Valeri Dean have much to smile about now that Valeri has her new kidney. “I feel like I can conquer the world,” she says.

Ken and Valeri Dean have much to smile about now that Valeri has her new kidney. “I feel like I can conquer the world,” she says.

Valeri Dean’s 32-year-old daughter, Jamie, was determined to give her mom a kidney, but she wasn’t even eligible to be tested. Valeri’s kidney disease was possibly genetic, so a blood relative’s donation was too risky. Valeri’s husband, Ken, had already been tested and had failed to match.

“Please don’t be upset because it’s all going to work out,” Valeri told her anxious daughter.

Valeri was right. She was receiving care at Virginia Mason, where another kind of kidney donation was possible. With an option called kidney paired donation, or KPD, transplant hopefuls who aren’t matches with their would-be donors are paired with other willing donors and people in need. This donor/ recipient “swap” can involve multiple patient pairs in which all donors undergo surgery at exactly the same time — their kidneys prepared and shipped across time zones to recipients they’ve never met. But what each donor gets in return is a kidney perfectly matched for its intended recipient.

“Because about one in seven people in the U.S. will develop kidney disease, many people will wait for a transplant,” says Ann Rutledge, director, Virginia Mason Transplant Program. “KPD is an option now for those recipients who have a willing donor and can weather the sometimes uncertain process.”

One uncertainty is the timing. Once a donor/recipient pair goes in a national database, there’s no telling when potential matches will surface, or when the surgery will take place. Pairs can be matched and enter the testing phase, but any number of last-minute complications can stop the entire exchange. For Valeri and Ken, the first two KPD attempts fell apart.

“But every sign was there that the third one would work,” says Valeri, who would later learn the name of the recipient of her husband’s kidney was also Valeri’s maiden name. “I came out of surgery feeling so great I wanted to call my donor. I just wanted to hug her.”

Ken’s kidney went to a recipient in Texas. Her donor’s kidney was sent to a man in Georgia, while his wife’s kidney was flown to Seattle to be placed in Valeri.

“I see KPD and other paired donation programs as the next big step in addressing the organ shortage,” says transplant surgeon Jared Brandenberger, MD. “Now anyone who has a healthy donor willing to participate in an exchange should be able to receive a transplant. KPD can also help people who are sensitized, meaning they have antibodies likely to cause rejection, to receive a better matched donor kidney years earlier than they might have without KPD.”

Naturally, patients have questions about the KPD process. Some want to know what would happen if transported kidneys get lost or are delayed. Others wonder about their donor, or how they can plan KPD around work and family when the timing is such an unknown. Valeri and her husband’s positive nature and flexibility made them good candidates for KPD, and their optimism paid off. Even with two canceled attempts, Valeri received her transplant within 10 months of registering for KPD.

“We are so thankful for Virginia Mason and the KPD program. We’ll do anything to get the word out,” says Valeri. “I didn’t know how sick I was until I was well again. I feel like I can conquer the world.”

We are proud to share stories from the 2013 Virginia Mason Annual Report. Read about our patients, the treatment they received at Virginia Mason and how it has improved their lives.

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