ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. - When William Breckenridge received the results determining whether he could donate one of his kidneys to his wife, JoAnn, what he heard was unexpected.
"They said they had good news and bad news," William said.
The bad news was he was not a compatible match. The good news was his wife still could receive a kidney from a live donor — which is more viable than from a deceased one — but it still would require him to donate one of his.
The proposition is called a paired donation and is an alternative for those willing to donate to a loved one but unable to do so. Both the donor and recipients are put into a database and matched with a stranger.
In the Elizabethtown couple's case, their donation cycle indirectly reaches to Greece, and was one of the United States' first international swaps.
JoAnn was told by doctors in 2010 both her kidneys were failing because of high blood pressure and she needed a transplant.
For a period of more than a year that she was on a waiting list for a kidney, JoAnn had to self-administer nightly dialysis in her home.
"I was getting frustrated because I figured nobody would help me," she said. "I kept on doing dialysis, kept on praying, and tried to keep my spirits up."
JoAnn had exhausted all other known live donor sources. None of her family members were compatible and her husband had to lose 30 pounds before he could be tested. Even when he did, he was told his kidney wasn't a match.
This is why the paired donation was a good option for the couple.
"Well, she needed one," William said. "And I was willing to give up one."
Additionally, a live kidney donation lasts twice as long as a deceased donation.
While the paired donation program tries to schedule couple surgeries at the same time, circumstances did not allow simultaneous operations. JoAnn received a kidney from Pennsylvania on April 19 and William donated one to a patient in California on May 1. Both underwent surgery at Jewish Hospital in Louisville.
The recovery from surgery for JoAnn has been typical for someone receiving a new organ: being careful in her activity and taking anti-rejection medications for the rest of her life.
But for William, the recovery has been relatively smooth and easy. He said he could hardly tell he had lost an organ at all.
"It all worked out," he said. "If anybody wants to (donate an organ), I think it's a great idea."
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