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Swaping Kidney, Saving Lives

Swaping Kidney, Saving LivesA surgeon at Tufts Medical School was one of the first in the nation to perform a groundbreaking kidney exchange, saving two lives.

Boston [10.04.02] Without a matching donor in their immediate families, Sara St. Pierre and Brittany Smith would have each expected to wait several years for the new kidneys they desperately needed-joining the 53,000 patients on organ donor lists nationwide. But a unique kidney exchange, orchestrated in part by a Tufts doctor, gave the New Hampshire women new hope and a new lease on life.

"It's heartbreaking to see a relative want to donate and miss the opportunity because of an incompatibility," said Dr. Richard Rohrer, an Associate Professor at Tufts School of Medicine, told The Boston Globe.

Until recently, it looked as though this might be the case for St. Pierre, 22, and Smith, 16. Both had family members who were willing to donate a kidney, but could not because their blood types were incompatible.

But innovative thinking by the New England Organ Bank, Tufts-New England Medical Center and Boston's Children's Hospital resulted in a unique inter-family kidney swap, saving both women's lives.

Smith received a kidney from St. Pierre's father Fred. St. Pierre's kidney was donated by Smith's sister, Emily.

"[Fred] is blood type A, while Sara is blood type B. Brittany Smith is a B type, while Emily is an A," a spokesperson for Tufts New England Medical Center told The Union Leader. "Thanks to the live donor program, we were able to make the match."

The swap-which was the first in New England and one of just a few ever performed in the U.S.--spared both women from placement on New England's extended kidney waiting list. With more than 2,000 people already waiting for organs, the average wait is more than five years.

Smith would have had to wait more than three years for a transplant, while St. Pierre faced a minimum of six months on dialysis to prevent her kidneys from failing.

Rohrer, who is Chief of the Transplant Surgery Division at Tufts-NEMC, performed surgery on St. Pierre. It was one of four surgeries necessary to complete the swap, which all took place on August 27 at Tufts-NEMC and Boston's Children's Hospital.

"This has been a real triumph for our system," Rohrer told the Globe after the procedures were successfully completed.

Both the patients and their donors are in good condition-and in high spirits.

"I love having a kidney," Smith told the Globe after the surgery. "It feels good to be able to do things that I couldn't do before, like go out and have fun."

St. Pierre, who now shares a unique bond with the Smith family, agreed.

"It just lets me have my life back and do what I want to do," St. Pierre told the Globe. "There's no easy way to say how grateful I am."


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