Chicago links to record transplant chain

February 19, 2012 3:32:35 PM PST
It is being called the world's longest kidney transplant chain, with thirty donors and 30 recipients from all across the United States.

Two of the patients are from the Chicago area and are telling their stories.

These surgeries required massive coordination over four months, involving 17 hospitals in 11 states.

Innovations in computer matching, surgical technique and organ shipping made it all possible.

Just two months ago Don Terry spent four hours a day hooked up to a dialysis machine. While it kept the 47-year-old Joliet resident alive, Terry says he was physically and mentally dying inside.

"Going to dialysis was another part-time job," Terry said. "I was getting up at 4 o'clock in the morning to be at work by 6:30 to be a dialysis are 3 o'clock and to get home by 8 o'clock at night."

After a kidney transplant, Terry's life changed completely for the better.

"So today two after months surgery I feel phenomenal," he said. "I feel more active."

Terry is the last link in a record-breaking kidney transplant chain that involved 30 donors, 30 recipients and 17 hospitals nationwide, including Maywood's Loyola University Medical Center.

Loyola transplant surgeon Dr. John Milner explained how a chain works.

"A stranger could come forward and give to your husband, you can pay it forward to a couple downstream, and then if that person's donor is incompatible you can forward to another person in the country," he said.

The record-breaking chain began with a Good Samaritan in California who donated a kidney to a recipient in New Jersey. From there, the chain moved back and forth across the country, stopping at Loyola for the 12th link, who is Paulette Behan. The West Chicago resident received a transplant last September.

"I feel incredibly different," Behan said. "I have so much energy I can do all of the things that I quit doing because i did not have the energy, and it is all because of people coming forward and giving their kidneys."

The chain kept going because Behan's sister donated to a stranger after she was told she was not compatible with Behan.

"Traditionally, we would have just said, 'I am sorry. Your loved one is going to have to wait,'" Behan said. "But now, we can get people transplanted at Loyola as quickly as possible with the best-managed kidneys," she said.