CHICAGO - A kidney swap involving donors who weren't matches for loved ones but for perfect strangers has prompted the nickname "matches made in heaven" and resulted in a flood of emotions between strangers on Friday.
The simultaneous surgeries over the course of two days in June, involving four living-donors and four grateful recipients, were made possible by Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Kidney Transplantation Program. The donors were not matches with their loved ones, but they still decided to donate their kidneys, hoping that they could save someone else's life.
The four pairs consisted of two married couples, an aunt and son, and a good Samaritan to a man in need. Dozens of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals helped make the surgeries a success, and all of the recipients and donors are doing well after the surgery.
Each pair is anonymous, meaning the one donating the kidney on behalf of the one in need has no idea to whom their kidney will go to. On Friday, donors and recipients gathered and met each other for the first time.
It began with a non-directed donor, who, it turned out, was a match for Kevin Condreva, who had a previous kidney transplant in 2013 from his mother. After four years, his kidney failed and he was back on dialysis. His aunt, Donna Spans, 63, decided to become a donor to help him but was not compatible with Kevin. A search of the Kidney Paired Donation Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital revealed that someone else, stranger Patricia Tripolitakis, was a match with Spans. Patricia's husband Leo Tripolitakis became a donor to help his wife, who now calls him "her hero."
Leo Tripolitakis was not a match with his wife, but was for Lee Jenkins, whose wife Loretta Jenkins was a match to Steven Boone, whose friend Maggie Swanson is the open ended donor of this chain. Her transplant is scheduled for August.
"I feel like I am looking at a part of me standing next to me. And I just found out she doesn't live that far from me," said kidney donor Donna Spans.
All united by what they're calling "matches made in heaven," kidney recipients in the same room with their donors.
"Leo saved my life and I love him for that, tremendously," said kidney recipient Lee Jenkins.
When the donors didn't match with their loved ones in need of a kidney, they still decided to give the gift of life, ending what could have been up to a five year wait for a deceased donor kidney.
"I think I got the lucky end of the deal. I think it is wonderful and I just want to let you know that you got a darn, great, awesome kidney," said kidney donor Loretta Jenkins.
"I believe that," kidney recipient Steven Boone.
"Dialysis is a tough road and we know the survival after a kidney transplant is vastly longer than survival on dialysis. So that is why it is an urgent need to find a transplant," said Dr. John Friedewald, Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
So what happens now after this reunion of sorts?
"We will have kidney dates," said kidney recipient Patricia Tripolitakis.
Dates to remember when their lives became intertwined.