Wednesday, February 20, 2019
BJH/WUSM | Certain events have a way of changing lives, or reorganizing them into unforgettable before-and-after memories.
In early February, a special moment took place at Barnes-Jewish Hospital when four women, who all live in the St. Louis region, met for the first time to celebrate giving the gift of life to each other.
The meeting also marked a milestone for the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center. Not only were the women part of the transplant center’s internal paired kidney exchange, but one transplant marked the 10,000th organ transplant at BJH. Their stories and this milestone are a testament to the power of organ donation and how transplant can save lives.
For friends Randi Halpern and Marti Simon, the indelible before-and-after event was when Halpern told Simon she would give her a kidney. This was an offer Simon may have understood more than others. Years before, she had wanted to donate a kidney to her mother, who had polycystic kidney disease, but was told she couldn’t donate because she, too, had the disease. Simon’s mother didn’t survive.
Halpern remembers the day she found out about her friend’s condition. “I could tell Marti wasn’t herself at a party when I said goodbye to her. She told me she had kidney failure and her hands would get very cold. Marti told me I couldn’t do anything, but I said, ‘Yes, I can. I can give you a kidney.’”
Halpern underwent the testing necessary to determine if her kidneys were healthy and if she’d be a good match for Simon. At the end of her evaluation, Halpern got good and bad news. She wasn’t a match, but she could still help save Simon’s life.
When situations like these arise, a willing but incompatible living donor who wants to help a friend or loved one can participate in a paired exchange through the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center. The names of the living donor and recipient are added to the paired-exchange pool of names, where they can be matched with other willing donors and recipients who are compatible.
A paired exchange
Five months after Halpern was evaluated as a potential living donor, she was accepted into the hospital’s paired-exchange program. This meant Halpern could donate her kidney to another person in need. A recipient for Halpern’s kidney was also identified through the hospital’s internal paired exchange program.
That person was Pat Conway, whose kidney failure was caused by diabetes. Her daughter, Kate Tucker, volunteered to donate her kidney to her mother but was unable to do so.
“We thought that since we were a blood match, I could give my kidney to my mother, but there are other factors to be considered,” says Tucker. “We weren’t a tissue match. I was disappointed at first, then I learned about the paired-exchange program.”
After Conway and Tucker went through the same evaluation process as Halpern and Simon, they, too, were accepted into the exchange program.
As it turned out, Simon received Tucker’s donated kidney, and Conway received Halpern’s donated
10,000 stories to be told
The proverbial icing on the cake for Simon is that she was the recipient of the 10,000th transplanted organ at BJH. “Very few programs nationwide have performed 10,000 transplants,” says Gene Ridolfi, RN,
administrative director of the transplant center. “With 10,000 transplants, there are 10,000 stories that could be told. This milestone transplant is accompanied by a great story — two lives have been saved and four people will forever share an unbreakable bond.”
At BJH, the kidney transplant program accounts for more than half of all the transplants performed by the transplant center since 1963. The transplant center, which recently celebrated more than 55 years of lifesaving transplants, is the 12th largest in the nation, by volume, and is renowned for excellent patient outcomes.
“Before my transplant, I was so ill and fatigued because my kidneys were failing, so I wasn’t able to do the things I enjoyed doing,” says Simon. “Thanks to my organ donor’s gift of life, my health has been restored.”
“We all had a great support system from our friends, family and care teams at the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center, and we want everyone to know about this exchange program,” says Conway. “The four of us will be lifelong friends.”
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), nearly 114,000 people are waiting for
an organ, and a new person joins the list every 10 minutes. To register to be an organ donor, visit organdonor.gov or registerme.org.
By the numbers
Their stories and this milestone are a testament to the power of organ donation and how transplants can save lives. See more about the milestone here.
See local media coverage at the links below.
‘The Kidney Sisters’: The story behind BJH’s 10,000th organ transplant
Feb. 18, 2019
How one program at a local hospital is affecting countless lives
KMOV News 4
Feb. 8, 2019
10,000th organ recipient gets new kidney
KTVI FOX 2
Feb. 8, 2019
A kidney transplant reunion you have to see to believe
Feb. 8, 2019
To register to be an organ donor, visit organdonor.gov or registerme.org.
For more information on organ transplantation or becoming a living donor, visit BarnesJewish.org/transplant or call 314-362-5365. This number begins the living donor screening process at BJH’s transplant center.
Number of views (1441)/Comments (7)
2/20/2019 12:58 PM
CONGRATS.......I'D LIKE TO SAY THAT THE HLA LAB I WORK IN AT THE (IOH BLDG) HAD ALOT TO DO WITH THIS VICTORY AS WELL.... WE GET ALOT OF SPECIMENS FOR PRE & POST TRANSPLANTS.......10,000 IS A LOT LOLL
2/21/2019 7:30 AM
Dr. Doyle is an outstanding surgeon, she is a true blessing! Congratulations to all!
2/21/2019 8:31 AM
So happy for all these people who received the gift of life. My brother in law is one of those 114,000 waiting for a new organ (Mike is waiting for a kidney). He was called in once but someone else was a better match. However disappointing that was. we are still amazed at the care, concern, and kindness that BJH showed our family during this time and we look forward to seeing them again when Mike is blessed with a kidney. God bless you all for all you do.
2/24/2019 4:07 PM
You all do outstanding work, my mother the late Diane Chaney had a liver transplant in 1993 and it lasted until March 2, 2011. I can't thank you all enough for allowing me all the time you all gave me with my beloved mother.
2/26/2019 3:22 PM
My family member had a liver transplant at BJH in May, 2005 and is still ticking! I was new to BJC and I remember getting the call that a liver was on it's way and my family member was at the hospital being prepped. I walked from the CAB to BJH as the helicopter arrived. That was the first moment I realized the impact that working at BJC would have on me personally. I'm still thankful 14 years later to be working for an organization that is so focused on improving the health of the community we serve. Thanks for everything you do.
2/28/2019 4:13 PM
I am so thankful for our organization that gives so much support to organ donation. Thanks to BJC I was able to donate a kidney on 7/25/18 to someone close to me and every time that I see her now, it is evident what a difference it has made in her life. I probably would not have been able to pull it off had I worked for another company or organization. I am so thankful!
3/1/2019 8:29 AM
I am so Happy to be counted among this huge number. Thanks to the selfless gift from a Donor Family I'm celebrating into my 7th year out! great work team!