Largest Mass Kidney Donor Swap Ever

June 15, 2010

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(CBS) It's often the case that a person who needs a kidney has a relative or friend who is willing to donate theirs, but the blood types and compatibility factors don't match.

One solution is to orchestrate a paired kidney exchange, in which each person's donor gives his or her kidney to whomever in the group is the best match.

In the biggest kidney donor swap of its kind ever, over the last several weeks at four different Washington, D.C., hospitals, 14 people got new kidneys.

It's a complicated process: each patient got a kidney from a stranger, and in turn almost everyone had a relative or friend donate one. For example, Barbara gave a kidney to Tracye. Tracye's cousin David gave one of his to Vonda, and Vonda's daughter Andrea then gave one of her kidneys to Jason.

Dr. Jimmy Light, director of Transplantation Services at Washington Hospital Center, said, "It's extraordinarily complicated and it takes huge logistics and things. It all hinges on, of course, the willingness of the donors to just try to help somebody. That's where it all begins."

Dr. Keith Melancon, head of the Kidney & Pancreas Transplant Program at Georgetown University Hospital, added that transplants can be dangerous like any other major surgery. However, he said, "It has been a done safe for a long time now and people can do very well after this operation."

Gary Johnson, one of the transplant recipients, said sitting next to his donor was "overwhelming."

"Early Show" co-anchor Harry Smith observed, " It's an interesting circle that develops when one person does the right thing and another person does the right thing and another person does the right thing. And there you have this whole crowd of folks in there who have done the right thing and all the healthy people that have benefited as a result of this."

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