They called it the "Miracle on Reservoir Road:" The largest kidney swap in the world. It involved 13 organ donors who saved the lives of 13 people. Most of them had never met.
"He just wanted to help somebody live," said kidney recipient Roxanne Boyd Williams. "He didn't know who I was."( Tue Dec 15 20:11:43 PST 2009 $__output )
Williams would never have met Tom Otten, a police officer living halfway across the country in St. Louis.
"My wife needed a kidney, and I couldn't give her one," Otten said. "I wasn't a match. So we came out here."
The strangers did meet, and now Irene Otten has one of Williams' kidneys. It was part of a complicated, 13-way kidney swap, the largest in the world. It took place over the course of nine days earlier this month at Georgetown University Hospital and Washington Hospital Center.
"I guess what you have before you is a baker's dozen," said Georgetown University Hospital transplant surgeon Dr. Keith Melancon.
These procedures are like putting together a puzzle, he said. It starts with one altruistic donor, who gives a kidney to a sick patient. That person has a willing donor, who isn't a match. So doctors then match them with another patient, who also has an incompatible, but willing donor and the cycle begins again. Pay it forward, kidney style. In this case, it happened thirteen times.
"Ten out of these 13 transplants went to minority recipients, and this is very important because nationwide we have an epidemic of kidney disease, but it is even more so in the minority community," Melancon said.
One big reason that these transplants are becoming easier is a procedure called plasmapharesis, which can actually scrub out the antibodies from a donor's blood. That can help prevent the recipient from rejecting the organ.
"I'm so emotional about it, I'm beyond tears," said Washington Hospital Center Dr. Jimmy Light. "There's no better feeling in the world than giving somebody back their life."
For Roxanne Boyd Williams, her new kidney has truly given her new life. Before the transplant, she was so sick she couldn't spend much time with her children. But even though it's been less than two weeks since her transplant, she's already feeling a change.
"Now I just feel like I have so much more to give," she said.
And for her donor -- Tom Otten -- being a part of this swap, meant finding a donor for his wife, Irene.
"She would still be on a waiting list, where everyday on dialysis is one less day alive," he said. "We come out to D.C. and she's got a new kidney and she's doing great."