When I was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (PKD) in 2002, my husband Doug and I knew that over time my kidneys would get worse. We also knew that, eventually, my kidneys would fail and I would need dialysis or a transplant to stay alive. Being the generous person that he was, Doug didn’t hesitate a second in offering to donate one of his kidneys to me.
Unfortunately, Doug’s kidney was not a match. Like 100,000 other Americans currently on the waiting list for kidney transplants, we thought I would have to go on dialysis and wait for a matching donor. The wait can be years, and unfortunately, many people don’t make it.
As it turned out, I didn’t have to wait long. A matching kidney was available from an altruistic donor, Anthony DeGiulio, who offered to donate his kidney to anyone who needed it. That random act of kindness set in motion a four-way paired donation that saved my life.
Back in 2008, when I had my transplant, these so-called “paired donations” were rare—we were the first in New York, and only the second in the United States. My surgeon, Dr. Lloyd Ratner, was a pioneer in the field of “kidney swaps.” He understood that the key to saving as many lives as possible was simply to shorten the waiting time by increasing the donor pool.
If a kidney patient had a donor who was not match but was willing to donate to another patient on the list who was a match, a "chain" of donors could be created. Instead of waiting years for a kidney, the original patient would qualify for an immediate transplant.
I received Anthony’s kidney in a marathon series of surgeries that involved nearly 50 clinicians working in eight operating rooms at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. Doug donated his kidney to a 22-year-old college student who had lupus, whose father donated his kidney to a man from Poughkeepsie, New York. That man’s sister, in turn, donated her kidney to a man from New York City.
At the time, the procedure (and those of us involved) received a great deal of media attention, and even inspired an episode of the TV series “Grey’s Anatomy.” Now, thankfully, it’s becoming more common, and giving hope to so many more people living with kidney failure. Just a few years ago, 30 kidneys from living donors were transplanted into 30 patients at 17 hospitals in 11 states. That chain, too, was set in motion by an altruistic donor who was willing to give a kidney to anyone who needed it.
I will forever be grateful to Anthony for giving me the gift of life, and to Doug for his willingness to give his kidney to a stranger so that I could get a transplant. I lost Doug last year, but his generosity, and his spirit, continue to inspire me every day. My transplanted kidney is doing fine and I will forever be grateful to Doug and Anthony for giving the gift of life.
Barbara Asofsky lives in Wantaugh, New York. Her late husband Doug served on the Board of Trustees of the American Kidney Fund for nearly five years. Barbara and Doug maintained a close friendship with Anthony DeGiulio, her altruistic kidney donor.
Read Anthony DeGuilio’s blog post about his altruistic kidney donation. [Link]