You’ve Gotta be Kidney Me! - Mountain News : News

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You’ve Gotta be Kidney Me!

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Posted: Thursday, October 17, 2019 9:00 am

Seated in morning light beneath high, wood-beamed ceilings at the expanse of the hardwood dining room table, Barbara Doutt cracks an unintentional joke.

“Cadavers don’t live as long,” Doutt says. “That’s why live organ donors are a better option if you’re a recipient.”

“I actually have four kidneys inside me right now,” Doutt says, pointing to her stomach. “When they put the new ones in they don’t cut out the old ones. I know someone who has six. Even though my original kidneys don’t function, they still produce hormones and things I need. No, they leave them in; that would be too much cutting. Mine are here, just one centimeter beneath the skin. When I drive I have to wear a pillow in my lap for the seatbelt.”

“I actually got to see my kidney before it went in,” Doutt adds. “Two nurses were doing something with it. Cleaning it, to get all the connections prepared. And one of the nurses held it up for me and said, ‘Look? This is what’s going into you.’”

Doutt’s daughter, Amy Sharrow, who is seated next to her mother at the table, had a similar (renal) out-of-body experience when she donated her kidney so her mother could have a replacement.

“I was in a haze,” Sharrow explains. “But I looked up and it’s literally an igloo cooler. And I think ‘that is my kidney in an igloo.’”

However, rather than Sharrow’s kidney going directly from her body into her mother’s, her kidney was transported off to another recipient living in Virginia. The kidney that Doutt saw came from a live donor in Seattle.

Both mother and daughter were part of a new algorithmic expression of donation called “paired kidney exchange,” or “paired exchange” for short, which utilizes a data-driven approach to create a “chain” of donor/recipients based on numerous extenuating factors of compatibility.

“There were 44 people in my chain this time,” Doutt says. “Which is more people than were in my chain the first time I did a paired exchange.”

Doutt was on dialysis for nine years before she discovered the paired exchange program and received her first kidney after her sister-in-law volunteered to donate.

“The airlines fly the kidneys all over the country for free,” Doutt says. “They sit in a cooler up in the cockpit with the pilot. Paired exchange is a whole process of getting a kidney without having to find a genetic match. Normally, you got on a transplant list and want for donors to match up with you when they die. This is a way around it.”

With the new system of paired exchange, all you need to do to get a new kidney is find someone willing to be a live donor to enter your chain. What’s more, the medical expenses of the person donating the kidney are fully covered by the Medicare plan of the recipient of the kidney.

“You don’t need to find someone to match you. All you need is a living donor willing to go through the process. Age doesn’t matter, race doesn’t matter, they can even do it across blood type now.” Doutt says. “I waited around four months.”

Seated calmly next to her mother, Sharrow adds some perspective about what it’s like to go through the process as a donor.

“I couldn’t tell you I had one [kidney]. It hasn’t affected me. I’ve been to the doctor for tests and I’m completely normal. A lot of people think organ donation is something you do when you’re dead.”

Doutt adds that organ donation “is getting to do something neat while you’re still alive.”

“It’s kind of interesting,” Sharrow continues. “We’re a little bit recyclable.”

If anyone is interested in learning more about paired kidney exchange, the doctor who performed Barbara and Amy’s procedure hosts a series of webinars on the subject. For more information, check out Dr. Jeff Veale’s UCLA webinars online at www.uclahealth.org.

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