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D.C., Md., Va. hospitals participate in largest-ever multi-hospital kidney transplant chain

ABC News films a woman's surgery as she receives her new kidney. (Photo: ABC News)

WASHINGTON (WJLA) – With 34 donors and 34 recipients, Chain 357, nicknamed a “chain of love,” is the country's largest-ever multi-hospital kidney transplant chain. The National Kidney Registry worked with 26 hospitals across the country to make sure every link of the chain connected.

Since Jan. 6, the chain has bounced across the country, including stops at MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute in Washington, D.C.; Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.; University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville, Va.; and two bouts at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, Md.

LaTwanya Goslee, 43, tried to donate a kidney to her brother, 41-year-old Charles Muse, for several years. Their mother, Edith Summers, had donated a kidney to Muse in 2003, after he suffered from kidney failure due to hypertension. But that kidney eventually failed; he went on dialysis, and needed another transplant.

Goslee and Muse hoped the second transplant would be as simple. And initially, they were a match. But after Muse was diagnosed with cancer in one of his native kidneys, they were no longer compatible. And so, they entered the Paired Kidney Exchange Program, through the National Kidney Registry.

So, even though Goslee couldn't donate directly to Muse, by donating a kidney to a stranger, her brother would be eligible to receive a kidney from one of his matches in the system. It turns out his new kidney came from Harley Florez, a man from Colombia. He donated in South Carolina, so that his aunt living there with Polycystic Kidney Disease could receive a kidney, too. And the kidney Goslee donated at the University of Maryland Medical Center was driven by courier immediately to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pa. to be transplanted into a 65-year-old retired heavy equipment operator named Gary Watson.

Paul Fuss, 45, was another lucky kidney recipient on Chain 357. Since he was a child, Fuss has suffered from a genetic disorder called Alport Syndrome, which is connected to kidney disease. He received his first kidney transplant from his dad at age 21. About a year ago, his kidney function began declining again. Doctors at MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute determined he needed a transplant or he’d have to go on dialysis. But due to Fuss’ previous transplant, Dr. Jennifer Verbesey says it was hard to find a match for him. More than a dozen of his family members were tested to see if they could donate a kidney directly to him, but no one was a match. However, by entering the Paired Kidney Exchange Program with his sister-in-law, Angie O'Reilly, he was able to receive a kidney. O’Reilly donated a kidney to a woman she matched with in Los Angeles so that Paul could receive a kidney from a donor he matched with at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

Without a chain like this, it can take patients years to receive a kidney transplant. In fact, right now, 100,000 Americans are waiting for one. This Paired Kidney Exchange Program can speed up the process, so that patients in desperate need of kidneys are helped much more quickly. And it provides living donor kidneys, which can last twice the length of time as a deceased donor kidney.

This entire chain wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for 48-year-old Kathy Hart, an attorney from Minneapolis. She donated a kidney out of the goodness of her heart. And if any one person on the chain had been deemed unable to donate on surgery day, that would have put a halt or delay to the chain.

If you're interested in learning more about the process, click here to hear from University of Maryland transplant surgeon Dr. Rolf Barth, who discusses the surgery; MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute's Dr. Jennifer Verbesey, who discusses the Paired Kidney Exchange Program; and Angie O'Reilly, one of the patients who discusses what her recovery has been like as a kidney donor.

And Wednesday, April 15 at 12:30 a.m., ABC’s “Nightline” will have more information about the patients in this chain, including an interview with Kathy Hart, the Good Samaritan who started the chain.

For additional information on the National Kidney Registry, go to www.kidneyregistry.org.

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