MAYWOOD, Ill. — For the last two and a half years, Lillian Rosa has had a special prayer — that a Good Samaritan would step forward and donate a kidney to replace her remaining kidney, which has failing.
That prayer was recently answered thanks to Loyola University Medical Center’s Pay-it-Forward Kidney Donation Program. On Tuesday, June 29, 2010, Rosa, 55, received a live-donor kidney that arrived by commercial airline, a first in Illinois and the Midwest.
“I am very happy. I’ve been praying so long for this to happen,” said Rosa, who has lost a sister and her father to kidney disease and whose brother is a kidney transplant recipient. “I’m thankful for Loyola’s program. I’m very happy for all those people, especially for the one that donated a kidney that is compatible for me.”
In response to the lifesaving gift to his wife, on Thursday, July 1, 2010, Lillian’s husband Jose, 59, showed his gratitude by paying it forward and donating one of his kidneys to a stranger, 51-year-old Ben Carnivele, a resident of West Chicago, Ill.
“I’m doing this of my own free will,” said Jose Rosa, a Chicago police officer stationed at O’Hare International Airport. “This is going to open a lot of doors for a lot of people out there. You don’t have to wait until there’s an accident and somebody dies. If a lot of people came forward and did what I’m doing, it would save a lot of lives.”
A Pay-it-Forward kidney transplant begins when an altruistic donor steps forward and offers to donate a kidney to a stranger with no strings attached, beginning a chain. The donor’s kidney is then given to a compatible transplant candidate who has an incompatible donor who then agrees to give a kidney to a third person with an incompatible donor, and so on. Potentially, the chain can go on forever.
Currently, more than 82,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which maintains the national waiting list. The average wait time is five to seven years. By utilizing a powerful complex computer algorithm, the Pay-it-Forward concept rapidly links up compatible donors and recipients from across the nation with the goal of cutting that wait time in half.
“Rosa was a difficult match because she had pre-formed antibodies against most people including her husband, the only donor that was available to her before the advent of our program,” said Loyola kidney transplant surgeon Dr. John Milner, who helped spearhead the initiative. “She had been waiting since 2007, even though she had a healthy donor, but we were able to match her immediately thanks to the power of chains.”
Since Loyola University Medical Center launched its Pay-it-Forward Kidney Donation Program in April with four Good Samaritan donors, beginning three chains, 15 transplants have taken place across the nation as a direct result. Jose Rosa’s donation is another link in a series of transplants that are the future of kidney transplantation.
“That’s actually 30 people who we have helped because 15 people without donors advanced on the national waiting list thanks to these 15 incompatible pairs being cleared in front of them,” said Loyola transplant surgeon Dr. David Holt who also helped establish the Pay-it-Forward Program.
Currently, 21 additional people have enrolled to become Good Samaritan donors at Loyola.
“On average, each altruistic donation leads to six transplants so potentially Loyola’s 21 could result in 126 additional people receiving transplants very soon,” said Garet Hill, founder of the National Kidney Registry, the nonprofit organization that coordinates the donations.
A Pay-it-Forward kidney transplant can easily be confused with a paired donation in which a transplant candidate has a willing donor who is incompatible. In this instance, the pair is matched with a compatible pair in the same situation and they go on to swap kidneys. However, a paired donation has a major limitation. The surgeries have to be performed simultaneously in the same hospital since a donor could decline to donate after their partner receives a kidney from the other pair.
“The kidney that Rosa has received is the first living donor kidney ever shipped across the country to Chicago and the Midwest,” Milner said. “This demonstrates the power of chains to get more people transplanted. We’re helping to revolutionize how kidney transplantation takes place in America.”
Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, Loyola University Health System is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and 28 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus, Loyola University Hospital, is a 561-licensed-bed facility. It houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children’s Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola’s Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus in Melrose Park includes the 264-bed community hospital, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness and the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Care Center.