Thursday, June 17, 2010

Client News: Inova Fairfax Hospital takes part in World's Largest Paired Kidney Exchange

by Brenna Smith -(WUSA) -- Fourteen total strangers received a second chance at life after Jennifer Whitford, a young mother of two, died unexpectedly on May 26.

Whitford, 24, started a domino effect resulting in the world's largest paired kidney exchange. The record-setting swap happened over a period of nine different days this spring at Georgetown University Hospital, Washington Hospital Center, Children's National and Inova Fairfax.

"Unlike transplant exchanges that have taken place at Georgetown and the Washington Hospital Center in the past, this exchange was kicked off thanks to the generosity of (Jennifer)", says Dr. Keith Melancon, surgeon and director of the kidney/pancreas transplant program at Georgetown.

Whitford's kidney was flown to Georgetown where Dr. Melancon transplanted it into Brenda Wolfe, 44. Wolfe's husband, Ralph, was slated to donate his kidney to someone as a part of the exchange and could have rightfully declined to continue with his donation.

He chose to stay in the exchange. "I felt that if I backed out, I'd be going back on my word that I had given to someone I didn't even know," he said. "I know God had a plan for me to stay in this. It was the right thing to do."

As a result of Ralph's choice to continue, twenty-six more surgeries took place between June 1 and June 12, and thirteen more kidneys were successfully transplanted into new bodies.

Denise Milliken, Whitford's mother, made the choice to donate her daughter's organs.

"Life is short. Life is special," she said. "I think people should be willing to give absolutely everything that's possible."

The list of donors included people who weren't a match for their own loved one and two strangers who just wanted to help.

Gary Johnson received a kidney from Ralph Wolfe.

"You can't imagine how fortunate I feel that someone from somewhere in the universe came and gave me a kidney," he said.

Over 80,000 people currently sit on the kidney transplant waiting list, but exchanges like this shorten the wait for everyone.

Doctors also have a new blood-cleansing technique that makes people more compatible. "We used to say to about a third of the patients, 'Sorry, your donor is incompatible. You'll need to go on the waiting list'," says Dr. Jimmy Light, director of transplantation services at Washington Hospital Center. He adds, "Now, there is no such thing as an incompatible donor."

Giving a kidney as a living donor is easier than ever. The surgery is performed through tiny incisions, and doctors say donors can expect a completely normal lifespan with one healthy kidney.

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved.

A related article on ABC World News, "World's Largest Kidney Exchange Gives 14 People New Chance at Life" can be viewed here:

In memory of donor
Jennifer Whitford, 24
Sebring, Florida

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