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Good Samaritan Donor Travels to Utah to Give Kidney to a Stranger

Sep 04, 2019

Kaden McCormick was only two years old when he had his first kidney transplant. His father, Curtis, was the donor. When that kidney failed three years later due to a bout of norovirus, his mother Krista was ready to step up and donate one of her kidneys. Unfortunately, she wasn't a good donor match. Neither were the seven other people tested over the next five years as Kaden underwent dialysis and waited for a transplant.

Benjamin Benson was a teenager when he first thought about donating a kidney to someone in need. He hadn't known anyone in his life with kidney problems, or in need of an organ transplant, but he knew that you only need one kidney to live. Shortly before his 24th birthday he started looking into how he could make kidney donation a reality. Though he lives in California, he was drawn to the transplant program at University of Utah Health. "Everything I read about the University of Utah was quality, it was really good," he said. "When I came out here, I met the surgeons and I knew that I chose the right place."

On July 12, 2019, Benjamin's kidney was transplanted into Kaden. Neither even knew the other's name at the time. They met for the first time on July 30, just before Ben was preparing to return to home.

"I don't how to say thank you," said Kaden's mother Krista as the family entered the room. "You're a lifesaver."

It could be said Ben is responsible for saving the lives of not one, but two people waiting for kidney transplants. After finding she wasn't a match for Kaden, Krista volunteered to donate a kidney to a matching recipient once a suitable donor was found for her son. In the days before Kaden's transplant, she made good on that promise.

"With our paired exchange program, if donors come forward then they can allow these incompatible pairs to get transplanted quicker," said Jeffrey Campsen, MD, one of the transplant surgeons involved in the case. "If you come forward and want to donate, you not only can potentially help one person, but you can help multiple people."

"It's been something I've always been open to doing," said Ben, discussing his decision to become a non-paired living kidney donor. Before he was even accepted into the program, Ben began saving money to be able to take time off from his job in order to make kidney donation a reality. He kept his plans to himself as well, not wanting to draw attention to his actions, telling people he was going to take a vacation. Now though, he wants to encourage others to follow his lead if they are considering being a living kidney donor. "I would say go for it. It's not as scary as it seems," he said. "To be able to help somebody, it's unparalleled of how you feel."

Ben, and other living kidney donors like him, faces few complications from the donation. In the almost 50 years University of Utah Health has been doing living kidney donations, not one donor died, went into kidney failure, or needed a kidney transplant. "That has happened in other states though," said Campsen. "In those cases, the United Network for Organ Sharing has rules in place where if a donor goes into kidney failure, they go to the top of the transplant list and get priority."

Ben, Kaden, and Krista are all recovering well. Ben is back in California, and Kaden and Krista are back home on their farm with family enjoying the harvest and doing chores. Kaden is no longer doing dialysis, and is once again able to enjoy the potassium rich foods he wasn't able to while waiting for his transplant. And there may be one other benefit of the transplant. Kaden may be taller. "He's pretty sure when they put it in it did make him taller," said Krista. When asked, 'How do you feel,' Kaden says, 'I'm pretty sure I'm taller.'"

If there is such a thing as fate, it could be that Ben was fated to be Kaden's donor. In their first meeting the pair discovered their birthdays are just one day apart in January. And Krista spoke of how one of Kaden's dialysis nurses who had witnessed the transplant described the surgery. "Everybody in the operating room said that this was the kidney he had been waiting for," she said. "It fit perfectly in there."