Nearly 123,000 Americans are on the national waiting list for organ donation, and more than 101,000 of those are in need of a kidney donation. Waiting on a list could take years, as patients struggle through multiple trips per week to dialysis centers.
Angela Danz of East Islip battled kidney cancer in 2013, which led to the removal of both of her kidneys. Now two years cancer-free, Angela thought she had the answer that would get her off that waiting list — her husband, Tom, would donate his kidney and all would be fine. But when the medical workup came back, it found that Angela had antibodies that would reject Tom’s kidney.
“We were hit with some devastating news that we weren’t a match, which was devastating for both of us,” Tom Danz told CBS New York.
The couple’s four children all stepped forward, along with family and friends, but no one was a match.
“Even though we got a denial of results, there was always hope that someone else was in the system,” their daughter, Alex Danz, told CBS New York.
On Tuesday, March 15, Angela and Tom took part in the first kidney paired donation exchange on Long Island at Stony Brook University Hospital. This was also the first exchange for the Transplant Department at Stony Brook.
Paired kidney exchanges typically involve a donor who wants to offer an organ to a specific recipient, usually a friend or loved one, but is incompatible because of a mismatch in age, size, blood type or antigen sensitivity. Instead of giving to the original patient, the person donates to another patient who also has a mismatched donor.
Working with the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the team at Stony Brook was able to find a perfect match for Angela, while Tom was a perfect match for someone else in a three-way swap.
Angela received a kidney from a donor in Minneapolis. That donor had planned to donate to his family member, but for similar reasons, the match was unsuccessful. Tom’s kidney was not a match for the family in Minneapolis, but it was a match to a man in Missouri. A couple at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, was hoping to be a match, but no success. The kidney in Missouri matched perfectly for the family member in Minnesota. So in the end, there were three live donors giving to three recipients in three different states — saving lives and opening up spots for others on the donor waiting lists.
“We coordinated all of these surgeries at the same time,” Dr. Frank Darras, Clinical Professor, Department of Urology, and Medical Director, Transplantation Services, told Newsday of the three-state ordeal, which involved timing kidney removals, jet flights and transplants.
In 2015, 31.5 percent of kidneys transplanted nationwide came from living donors. In more concrete figures, 17,878 kidney transplants were performed, 5,628 involving living donors. Of those living donors, 570 involved unrelated people in paired donations.
Darras told Newsday that he sees multi-state exchanges as adding a new dimension for kidney failure patients on Long Island.
He performed the operations on both Danzes in a round-the-clock surgical marathon that began before 8 am on March 15 with the removal of Tom Danz’s kidney and ended at 11 pm that day with the completion of the transplant. He said he saw the kidney already producing urine as he finished suturing it in place.
“We are thrilled that we were able to do this,” Darras said during an interview with Newsday, “because it allows us to offer our patients every possible option.”
“Not only did Angela get a whole new lease on life, but there are two other patients who did as well,” Stony Brook University Hospital Transplant Senior Specialist Dawn Francisquini told CBS New York.
Tom and Angela are feeling great and recovering from their surgeries.
“I’ve been truly blessed,” Angela said. “If it wasn’t for donors, my husband included, I wouldn’t be here feeling life like I’ve been reborn,” Angela told Fox 5 in New York.