In the fall of 2012, Julie Stitt offered to donate a kidney to her husband, Chuck, who was in kidney failure. Julie wasn’t a match for Chuck, so they entered the Paired Kidney Exchange (PKE) program at the University of Maryland Medical Center, which would move Chuck higher up on the transplant list and enable him to get a kidney from a better-matched living donor; Julie would donate her kidney to a stranger to whom she matched.
Chuck had a kidney transplant in December 2012 from a donor he’d never met. Julie, having just started a new job as a 2nd grade teacher, asked to wait til the summer of 2013 to have her kidney donation surgery for a stranger.
In the meantime, Julie’s father’s kidneys failed, and he was put on dialysis. Julie asked if she could donate to her dad since her husband had already received a kidney from another donor. Julie was told that she must honor her obligation as a living donor within the Paired Kidney Exchange program, and some patient out there was waiting to receive her kidney.
On June 15, 2013, Julie donated her kidney, not knowing who it would go to. That same day, her dad, Richard Kern, got a phone call. “Mr. Kern, we believe we have a living donor for you. Please come to the hospital for your transplant now.” Neither Julie nor her father knew that her kidney was going to him. The nurses and doctors had run the UNOS transplant wait list, per PKE protocol – and even they couldn’t believe it; her dad was the next patient on the wait list who was in need of a kidney with her rare blood type – AB! In a remarkable twist of fate, Julie ultimately donated her kidney to her father.
Dr. Stephen Bartlett, professor and chair of the department of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and senior vice president and surgeon-in-chief at the University of Maryland Medical System performed Richard Kern’s transplant surgery. “It’s quite a coincidence,” said Bartlett when commenting on the chances of one donor saving the lives of her two favorite men completely by chance.
Julie and her family were ecstatic, and she is a real hero. By entering the Paired Kidney Exchange program, she was able to get her husband transplanted sooner and from a living donor, which data has shown has better long-term outcomes. And she was able to help her beloved dad.