Thirty-one-year-old Katie Harris of Statesboro, Ga., needed a kidney transplant because her kidneys were failing due to Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, a disease where the kidney has scarring of microfibers, which filter out toxins.
“My mother-in-law volunteered to get tested. My sister-in-law got tested. And one of my sisters got tested,” Katie says. “It just happened that my mother-in-law was the best match for me.”
“When Katie reached the point of needing a transplant, she told everybody we needed to get people tested to see who would qualify,” says her mother-in-law, Mary Harris, 55, of Tampa, Fla.
But two days before Katie was supposed to receive Mary’s kidney, doctors called to say they could not do the transplant because Katie developed antibodies that would have rejected Mary’s kidney.
Even though they weren’t a match anymore, doctors asked Mary if she was still willing to donate her kidney to someone else in need. She said yes.
“They put us in the database for paired donation and found that two other pairs were looking as well,” says Katie. In a paired donation, incompatible donor pairs are mixed with other incompatible pairs to find the perfect match.
65-year-old Judy McDaniel of Headland, Ala., was also prepared to donate a kidney, but she wasn’t a match for her daughter Nikki. As part of the paired donation program, Judy learned her kidney could go to Katie instead. In return, Nikki would get a kidney from someone else. And, the kidney Mary planned to give to Katie would go to a third recipient.
“I’m here at Piedmont to donate a kidney to someone I do not know in order for my daughter to receive a kidney from someone she doesn’t know,” said Judy, before the surgery.
“I don’t think of it as giving to a stranger,” says Mary. “While I may not know that person, they need a kidney. And, by me giving to that person, Katie gets a kidney. [So essentially], I’m giving [a kidney] to Katie.”
The morning after transplant surgery, Katie met her donor, Judy, for the first time.
“You got my kidney,” said Judy. “I hope it’s gonna be a good one and last a long time.”
“It is,” Katie replied, crying. “Thank you so much.”
Judy says without the paired exchange, her daughter, Nikki, was told she would have had to wait up to eight years for a kidney from a deceased donor.
“That’s a long time to be on dialysis,” Judy says. “This way, she gets a kidney sooner. And, she moves on with her life and has a chance to have a better quality of life.”
In March 2012, Piedmont Hospital successfully performed three paired kidney transplant surgeries simultaneously – including Katie’s and Judy’s daughter.
To learn more about living kidney donation, visit the Piedmont Transplant Institute.