Hospital makes history with living donor chain

Local News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — Eight strangers’ lives are now forever connected and changed thanks to a historic medical advancement.

For the first time ever, Central Illinois doctors successfully launched a living donor kidney transplant chain. Eight surgeries later, four people are getting a second chance at life.

A donor transplant chain can be complicated so there’s a chart to help break things down. There were eight people in the chain and they are all connected; half were recipients on a long waiting list, the other half were family members who wanted to give a kidney, but weren’t a match.

That’s where the hospital stepped in and, through an algorithm formula, everyone was paired perfectly. Wednesday, they all came face-to-face for the first time.

“Absolutely amazing. It’s mind boggling. I didn’t realize there were so many people until they’re all together. It’s just astounding.”

Big smiles and tears of joy were shared while celebrating Memorial Hospital’s first ever living donor chain transplant.

“We’re so happy and so excited to meet them and just so thankful that they were willing to do something like that and for somebody that they don’t even know.”

They were total strangers until now. Rebecca Reed is one of four recipients, now finally meeting the seven people who saved her.

“Gave him a big hug and said, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you,’ and I started to cry and they said, ‘Don’t do that!'”

It’s an unconventional reunion. Half are donors and half are recipients matched through an algorithm.

“It’s rewarding that the work that our team put in has resulted in it. Just good outcomes, but people feeling good about the outcomes.”

Most donors are family members wanting to help but who didn’t match their loved ones. Misty Shaw gave her kidney purely for the sake of giving.

“I can’t explain it. It’s just something that I feel isn’t hard to do, but it benefits somebody that really needs it.”

Doctors say her donation was the spark which put the wheels in motion: a chain reaction.

“I just think she is the hero of the story, of the whole process.”

Deborah Kunath was on the receiving end of Misty’s generosity. Without a new kidney, she thought she’d die.

“She did this remarkable thing and all of us, including the relative donors, are terribly grateful.”

“I’m excited because this is exactly what I want to happen. I want people to know about it and that people can do this.”

It was an amazing thing to witness. The surgeon who performed most of the procedures says, in his 20-year career, he’s never seen a reunion quite like this. Most of the participant say they plan to stay connected. 

One of the biggest benefits of a living chain is the reduction in wait times for recipients. The average wait time is four-and-a-half years. Everyone in this scenario was on the waiting list for less than three years.

Memorial Medical Center officials say it’s something they want to continue and they’re already developing another plan. 

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