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Published on June 01, 2012

University of Colorado Hospital Transplant Center Among Those Participating in First Intercontinental Paired Kidney Exchange

Paired kidney exchange involves at least sixteen patients, eight kidneys, three countries and numerous transplant centers

Aurora, Colo. – A couple from Arvada, Colo., shared today that they are expected to be among a handful of people participating in the first intercontinental paired kidney exchange. 

Their announcement came at University of Colorado Hospital following a news conference that the United States and Greece held earlier in the day at the Greek Embassy in Washington, D.C., with representatives from the Alliance for Paired Donation. 

Medical history made

Deano and Karen Gonzales; Alexander Wiseman, MD

Alexander Wiseman, MD (at right) joins
Deano and Karen Gonzales at today's
press conference.

The Alliance for Paired Donation says medical history was made in December 2011 when a 31-year-old Oklahoma woman altruistically donated her kidney to a stranger – a Greek man living in Athens, Greece. In return, the Greek man’s wife has now donated one of her kidneys to another person in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, completing the first intercontinental exchange - and opening a door that has the potential for saving thousands of American lives, as well as others worldwide. 

Paired kidney exchanges allow non-matching friends or family members of a patient waiting for a kidney transplant to donate to a stranger, enabling matching donors to be found for numerous patients in a chain of transplants. This is the first paired kidney exchange to involve patients in multiple countries and continents. Five kidneys have already been transplanted, and three transplants are now scheduled, including two planned at UCH. The exchange could continue to grow as more eligible donors and patients are identified.

Feeling 'blessed' to find a match

Karen and Deano Gonzales are among those expected to participate at UCH. Karen was born with polycystic kidney disease, a condition that affects several other members of her family. She recently decided to pursue transplantation in hopes of avoiding kidney dialysis. After undergoing the necessary tests for evaluation, she learned her chances of finding a donor would be tough.

“I learned that my blood just doesn’t play nice with anyone else’s. It (finding a match) would be like finding a needle in a haystack,” said Karen.

They received word in February that Karen had received a match.

“I feel very blessed,” said Karen. “My hope is that by sharing our story we raise awareness about the opportunities to participate in paired donation.”

Her husband, Deano, who plans to be a donor, fought back tears as he expressed how difficult it is not being able to help the one you love, but shared how he is looking forward to helping another whose health is failing.

“I’m just so grateful to the paired kidney exchange efforts and how they can mix and match kidneys,” he said.

The UCH Transplant Center will take part in this international exchange with two planned transplants involving four surgeries now planned over the next several weeks.

Medical Director for the UCH Transplant Center’s kidney and pancreas programs Alexander Wiseman, MD, said the center enthusiastically embraces paired donation.

“The success of these programs lies within those participating,” said Wiseman. “Trust is just built in.” That trust gives patients who have never met and may never meet the confidence that their transplants will take place.

Hospitals are taking part

Numerous hospitals across the U.S. and Greece are taking part in the chain of donations. To date successful transplants have been completed at The University of Toledo Medical Center, in Toledo, OH; Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre, PA; Jewish Hospital Transplant Center in Louisville, KY; and Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla, CA. Three more transplants in the chain will take place shortly at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta and at UCH.

About Alliance for Paired Donation

The Alliance for Paired Donation is an American non-profit organization (501(c)3) supported by public, private, corporate and government grants that facilitates kidney paired exchanges throughout the world. Services provided are completely free for both donors and recipients. When necessary, the Alliance provides financial support for travel, food, and lodging.

About University of Colorado Hospital

University of Colorado Hospital is the Rocky Mountain region's leading academic medical center.  It is recognized as the highest-performing academic hospital in the United States for delivering quality health care by the University HealthSystem Consortium, and is ranked as the best hospital in the Denver metro area and one of the best in the country by U.S. News & World Report

UCH is best known as an innovator in patient care and often as one of the first hospitals to bring new medicine to the patient's bedside.  UCH is one of three Colorado hospitals that make up University of Colorado Health.  The hospital’s physicians are affiliated with the University of Colorado School of Medicine, part of the University of Colorado system.  Based on the expansive Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, CO, the hospital is where patient care, research and education converge to establish the future of health care delivery. 

Contact: Jacque Montgomery (303) 928-9093 or jacque.montgomery@ucdenver.edu

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