For the first time since North Shore University Hospital established its Kidney Transplant Program in 2007, the transplant team headed by Ernesto Molmenti, MD, the program’s surgical director, and Louis Kavoussi, MD the North Shore-LIJ Health System’s chair of urology, performed a three-way kidney exchange involving donors who were unknown to the recipients until today. The donor chain starts with a person who wants to donate a kidney to a loved one or friend. That kidney is transplanted into a recipient who had a donor willing to give, but was found to be incompatible. To keep the chain going, the donor from the first pair gives a kidney to a patient he doesn’t know but who is a match. Specialized testing determines compatibility in each donor/recipient pairing.
And so it was with the six people who came together today. Darlene Rawlins, 54, of Baldwin, had been on dialysis for two years. She had hoped that her daughter, Contrina Rawlins-Pettway, 26, also of Baldwin, could donate a kidney, but testing found that the two were incompatible. Same with Jacqueline Gonzalez, 46, of Hollis, who had hoped to receive a kidney from her son, Karl Jordan, 27, also of Hollis. Unfortunately, they were also not a match.
The third pairing in the three-way exchange involved Steve Michalik, 64, of North Carolina, a bodybuilder who won 22 titles during the 1970s and 1980s, including Mr. USA in 1971, Mr. America in 1972 and Mr. Universe in 1975, against such competitors as Arnold Schwarzenegger and the “Incredible Hulk” Lou Ferrigno. Mr. Michalik asked his good friend Martin Hein Andersen, of Denmark, for a kidney. Participating in today’s news conference via Skype from Denmark, Mr. Andersen travelled to New York to get tested, but he too received the same news — the two were incompatible.
But thanks to the latest technology, teamwork and sophisticated testing, the transplant staff at NSUH found a way to make the three-way swap possible. On April 25, Dr. Kavoussi removed the kidneys laparoscopically from the donors and Dr. Molmenti surgically implanted them in each of the recipients. Most returned home three days later.
At today’s news conference, Dr. Molmenti introduced the very emotional donors and recipients to each other for the first time. Ms. Rawlins learned that her donor was Mr. Jordan, Ms. Gonzalez found out that she had received Mr. Andersen’s kidney and Mr. Michalik was matched with Ms. Rawlins-Pettway.
Amidst the tears and hugging, Dr. Molmenti asked, “Can you imagine the generosity of these donors? Some travelled long distances to help their friends only to discover that they were incompatible. And even then, they decided to participate in this donor chain to help a complete stranger… This is what you call a hero.”
The NSUH Transplant Center has performed nearly 100 transplants since performing its first surgery in the fall of 2007, with patients arriving from throughout the country – and even abroad. There are approximately 200 people on the NSUH Transplant Center’s waiting list to receive a kidney – nationally, about 90,000 are waiting. The majority are on dialysis, and the wait for a kidney can be as long as five-to-seven years, during which time the individual’s health is likely to continue to decline.
Media Contact: Michelle Pinto