Would you donate your kidney to a stranger, if you knew it might help someone you love?
Exchanging organs is a life-saving practice, growing every day in popularity. One Virginia mother swapped her own kidney with someone in New Jersey to save her daughter’s life.
Last February, Roxanne Mills took a leap of faith to save her daughter Laura’s life. Laura was in desperate need of a kidney transplant, but couldn’t find a compatible donor.
No one in the family was a match for Laura, so her mom offered up her kidney to a total stranger in an organ exchange that saved three lives.
Laura explained to ABC 8News Reporter Kristin Smith how the process worked.
"My mom went first; she went about two in the morning. They removed her kidney first. Her kidney was flown by an airline to New Jersey. It was implanted in a patient that was waiting for her, and that person's family member or friend donated their kidney to someone in Ohio, and it was flown to Ohio from New Jersey. And that person's family member or friend donated their kidney that was flown to Virginia, where I was waiting about 4:00 p.m. that same afternoon."
The three patients with three living donors all wanted one thing: hope.
Laura credits her mother’s selfless act with saving her life.
"You know, my mom wanted to give to me but she couldn't. But she still did, in a way. She still got me what I needed. And all of those people's family and friends gave to them and got their loved ones what they needed. Though it was a direct match, it still gave us a new life."
Laura’s new life began at VCU Medical Center, one of just 58 transplant center in the country that works with the National Kidney Registry. The hospital and National Kidney Registration work together to orchestrate kidney exchanges or “chains.”
There’s nothing illegal or ethically wrong with these swaps; doctors say it’s just a more proactive way to find a compatible kidney.
"We always say, if you have a donor who's healthy, who will not be harmed by donation, then that would be our preference because that results in a very short waiting time or essentially no waiting time," VCU Medical Center’s Dr. Gaurav Gupta said of the program.
With about 100,000 people on a national waiting list for kidneys, doctors admit many will never live long enough to get a transplant. The wait can be excruciating: one year…two years…or, in Laura’s case, likely much longer.
"She would probably be waiting for a long time,” said Dr. Gupta, “and it could be up to 7 or 8 years. Or she might be waiting forever and still not find a compatible donor."
Laura was a difficult person to match with a donor kidney because this wasn’t her first transplant. Laura’s brother Rick gave her a kidney in 2006. But when she got pregnant, her body rejected that organ.
It was a dangerous pregnancy which forced doctors to deliver Laura’s baby little Cooper three months early. He weighed just over two pounds and spent nearly four months in neonatal intensive care.
But Cooper is a fighter—just like his mom. Not long after her first appointment at VCU Medical Center, doctors found Laura a kidney and set up the swap.
"Three people got the most amazing miracle that they could ask for and three people gave a gift to somebody that they don't even know," Laura said of the swap.
Roxanne received a letter from one of the recipients. These lines brought tears to her eyes as she read them aloud:
"Dear donor, its hard to put to pen and paper and say all the things this chance of life has brought to us. God has truly blessed us and for that we are so grateful."
The thank you assured Roxanne that a stranger will continue to cherish her gift of life as much as Laura treasures hers.
"We go through life and we think we're helping in small ways or donating to a charity or you know, just small things that life brings to you. But this was a big way. A way that came to us that we'd never imagined would come to us, so the opportunity is really priceless."
Copyright 2014 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond
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