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Published: Thursday, 6/21/2007

Gift-of-life exchange

LOCAL transplant surgeon Michael Rees of the University of Toledo Medical Center has a noble goal: To increase the number of kidney transplants each year. That might not always be possible, but anything that could bring about more transplants should stir excitement. Dr. Rees calls the living donor program he has created a "never-ending angel." And angels are badly needed in the organ donation world. Currently about 55,000 people are on waiting lists for a kidney donation.

Some 4,000 of them die each year. Locally, one of the best known living-donor kidney transplant cases involved local musician Lisa Holden, who gave a kidney to a friend, Steve Kenczyk, in 1999. Dr. Rees' creation of the kidney-donor match program wouldn't necessarily link people who know one another. But he has formed an Alliance for Paired Donations which could help reduce how many people die waiting for a kidney.

It would work like this: A patient brings in someone whose kidney does not match his own, but who is willing to donate to another patient in need. The process evolves into something of a swap meet, where the original patient and a living donor could eventually be matched with others on the list.

Such an arrangement requires a substantial number of living donors, and fortunately, new ones are being identified. Some 10,000 patient-donor pairs are identified in programs around the country. Last year alone, about 6,700 living-donor organ transplant operations occurred nationally, including 406 in Ohio and 249 in Michigan.

Scientists are still refining how they match living-donor pairs. The goal is to benefit as many patients as possible, via sophisticated computer programming.

Researchers and doctors still have work to do, but in the meantime, Dr. Rees expects to begin transplants with a living donor within a few months. His chain may not be endless, but it may well turn into a truly significant gift of life.

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