Triple Kidney Donation at Emory Exemplifies Generosity of Donors

May 2011

The Emory Transplant Center (ETC) initiated its innovative Paired Donor Kidney Exchange Program in 2009. In paired kidney donation, one incompatible donor/recipient pair is matched to another pair in the same situation, so that the donor of the first pair gives to the recipient of the second, and vice versa. Of course, donated kidneys also come from recently deceased donors, and while most function well, studies have shown that a kidney from a living donor provides the greatest chance for long-term success.

"Paired donor exchanges allow us to cast a much wider net to find compatible donors and recipients," says Dr. Ken Newell, who directs the ETC's Living Donor Kidney Program. "With a paired kidney transplant, one incompatible donor-pair is able to give a healthy kidney to a compatible recipient. In exchange, the second donor-recipient pair will give a compatible kidney to the first donor-recipient pair, making two compatible living donor transplants possible and increasing the potential number of available donor kidneys. This option can help those patients waiting for kidney transplants who have family members or friends willing to be donors and who are medically suitable, but who have an ABO blood type that is incompatible with the recipient's blood type."

In this particular situation, the ball was set rolling by an individual, Jon Pomenville of Anderson, SC, who decided to donate a kidney to a recipient anywhere in the country. Gerry Smith of Five Points, Ala., needed a kidney, as did 7-year-old Zion Parnes, whose kidneys had been destroyed by focal segmental glomerulosclerosis. Both Gerry's and Zion's families wanted to donate but were incompatible matches.

Dr. Newell worked with the donors and managed the structuring of the following chain: Jon donated his kidney to Gerry, Gerry's 20 year-old son Matt donated his kidney to Zion, and Zion's father Mike donated his kidney to a waiting teenager at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston (also where Zion's transplant was performed; the adult procedures were performed at Emory University Hospital).

Drs. Paul Tso and Nicole Turgeon performed the donor surgeries, and Drs. Alan Kirk, Chris Larsen and Tom Pearson performed the recipient operations. The procedures went smoothly and all patients are doing well.