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A UPMC First: Transplant Team Participates In Large Multi-State Kidney Chain Involving 32 Operations and 16 Transplants

PITTSBURGH, Mar. 4, 2011 – A 36-year-old western Pennsylvania man received a kidney transplant at UPMC last month thanks to a living donor in Florida, and the man’s 59-year-old mother-in-law then donated her kidney to someone in Wisconsin as part of a multi-state kidney chain that is the largest involving patients from western Pennsylvania.

The paired kidney exchange, coordinated by the National Kidney Registry, involved 32 patients and 16 transplants performed at 12 U.S. hospitals over two months. It marked the first time that UPMC participated in a kidney chain.

“We’re pleased that UPMC could participate in this unique exchange because it enables people who want to donate a kidney but aren’t a perfect match with their loved one to still help them,” said Abhinav Humar, M.D., clinical director of the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute and chief, Division of Transplantation in the Department of Surgery at UPMC.

The National Kidney Registry identifies compatible donor-recipient matches and facilitates exchanges. The program allows someone who is incompatible to a loved one the opportunity to instead donate their kidney to a stranger they are compatible with. In exchange, that stranger’s friend or loved one donates a kidney to another stranger, and so on.

Henkie Tan, M.D., director of UPMC’s living donor renal transplantation program, and Ron Shapiro, M.D., director of UPMC’s kidney, pancreas and islet transplantation program, performed the recipient surgery Feb. 10 at UPMC Montefiore. The patient, a married father of two from the Latrobe area, had been diagnosed with a kidney ailment known as Berger’s Disease. This was his second kidney transplant; his father donated a kidney to him in February 2005.

The man’s mother-in-law, who also lives in the Latrobe area, decided to donate one of her kidneys to an unknown recipient in order to help her son-in-law and his family. The woman’s kidney was removed by Dr. Tan on Feb. 10 and sent to a hospital in Wisconsin.

Both patients have been released from the hospital and are doing well.

“There aren’t enough organ donors to meet the demand of patients in need and being involved in a kidney chain like this provides patients new hope,” Dr. Tan said. “It’s an important reminder that even if you are not a match for your loved one, you may still be able to help save your loved one’s life.”

This latest chain began at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York in December and ended there with the successful transplant of a 15-year-old.

The National Kidney Registry is a nonprofit organization with a mission to save and improve the lives of people facing kidney failure by increasing the quality, speed and number of living donor transplants in the world. The group facilitated its first chain in 2008, and has to date seen 235 transplants done as a result of their donor exchanges.

If all incompatible donors and recipients were simply listed in one common pool and modern computer technology was used to find matches, the problems related to incompatible donors would be a thing of the past. The National Kidney Registry was founded to make this vision a reality,” registry founder Garet Hil said.

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About UPMC’s transplant programs

UPMC’s transplant programs are among the world’s largest and are internationally renowned for their influence on the field of transplantation. For nearly 30 years, UPMC has been providing care to adult and pediatric transplant patients through services at the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute, the UPMC Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery and the Children’s Hillman Center for Pediatric Transplantation. Today, UPMC has performed more than 17,000 transplants, including heart, lung, intestinal, kidney, liver, pancreas and multiple-organ transplants, along with heart assist device implantation. UPMC also partners with the University of Pittsburgh to advance basic science and clinically applied research, as well as to support the teaching and training of transplant specialists worldwide.

About UPMC

UPMC is an $8 billion global health enterprise with almost 50,000 employees headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pa., and is transforming health care by integrating 20 hospitals, 400 doctors’ offices and outpatient sites, a health insurance services division, and international and commercial services. Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, UPMC is redefining health care by using innovative science, technology and medicine to invent new models of accountable, cost-efficient and patient-centered care. For more information on how UPMC is taking medicine from where it is to where it needs to be, go to

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