Medical Minute 11-10: Kidney Exchange: Saving 13 Lives

By: Melissa Medalie Email
By: Melissa Medalie Email

When a young mother of two lost her life, she became the catalyst for the largest kidney exchange in world history.

"I got the call that there was a deceased donor that was a perfect match for me," said Brenda Wolfe.

In just one year, Brenda Wolfe went from being perfectly healthy to stage five-kidney failure.

"He said do you know what stage five kidney failure is? I said dang I don't, how many stages are there? He said five, and that's when it really hit me. This is a serious situation," said Ralph Wolfe.

But her husband Ralph was not a match, so Brenda signed up for an exchange. Ralph would donate his kidney to a stranger and a stranger would donate a kidney to Brenda and so on. The first 14-way kidney transplant exchange.

"The patients, it's a leap of faith for them. This is all done anonymously," said Keith Melancon, M.D., Kidney/Pancreas Transplant Program.

Over two weeks, on nine different days, at four different Washington DC area hospitals, kidney after kidney after kidney was removed and replaced. All 14 kidneys are working. None have been rejected.

"I try to explain to my friends and family how these donors are different people. They're a breed apart...they're beautiful people," said Keith Melancon, M.D.

Ralph says it was just something he had to do, but for the man whose life he saved. It was much, much more.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT: Jessica VucciExecutive Assistant Georgetown University Hospital(202)444-6058Jxw33@gunet.georgetown.edu


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