Skip to main content
How One Kidney Can Save Many Lives

You are listening to Health Library:

How One Kidney Can Save Many Lives

Feb 12, 2014

If you’ve made the decision to become a live kidney donor, you’ve probably already got a recipient in mind. But if you could save more than one life with your kidney donation, would you do it? Transplant surgeon Dr. Jeffery Campsen talks about live donor kidney chains and how you can start or be a part of one.

Episode Transcript

Announcer: Medical news and research from University Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Scot: You may have read a couple stories in the news recently about something called Live Donor Kidney Chains. What exactly is that? It's where your kidney could help start a chain that would help a lot of other people is what it is. Dr. Jeffrey Campsen is a transplant surgeon at the University of Utah and you're getting pretty good at this here at the University Utah, these transplant chains. Tell me about what they are.

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: So it's interesting. The Live Donor Kidney Transplant Program at the University of Utah has been going on for quite a few years. Quite often if someone's in renal failure and they have someone who would like to donate a kidney to them, sometimes that's incompatible. So while they have somebody who would want to donate a kidney, it can't be done.

Scot: Kind of like a friend or family member maybe really wants to help.

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: That's exactly right.

Scot: Yeah.

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: And so what we've seen is we'll talk to the donor and say, "Would you be okay donating your kidney to somebody else if they also have somebody that would then donate a kidney to your recipient? And it starts to form a chain. And it's very complicated in how these chains work out but recently over the past six months we've been able to do three chains that were three pairs deep. So you actually do six surgeries and three people get transplanted. All three kidney recipients had donors that weren't perfect for them and we were able to match them up and create a chain which then at the end of the day now all those people are off of dialysis, all the donors have gotten their recipients transplanted, but it wasn't to the person they originally wanted to but we still were successful at the end.

Scot: But it was even better because if, for example, you needed a kidney, I agreed to transplant it that's only one person that's helped. These chains have helped up to three people each time.

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: Oh yeah. It's fascinating. And so you start out by wanting to help somebody and then at the end of the day, you're right, you've transplanted three patients. And what's interesting is we do this over the course of say 48 hours so we do all six surgeries in one to two, to three days. Then all six patients are actually in the hospital on the same floor and what we've found is they're all out walking, getting better and they meet each other and they're like, "You donated a kidney?" "No, I got a kidney." "Oh, you donated his kidney." And now we're finding they're going down and having lunch together in the hospital, they're getting together. Then their family members are meeting and we've seen this now where there are the six people that have had the transplants plus their family members and we're having groups of people in the hallways of like 20 and everybody's happy and it's amazing.

Scot: It must... Does that help their healing process? Because you hear so much about, you know, the mind is so important and your spirits.

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: Obviously it helps. I think if you're that positive and you see the joy and the success of this, people are just going to do better. And it's really a community coming together to help one another. And then when everybody leaves the hospital they go back to their lives and they're healthy and it's very successful.

Scot: So if I wanted to donate a kidney to somebody how do I become part of this chain?

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: Well, so there are a couple things that you can do. One is if you know somebody in renal failure and kidney failure and you want to be their donor then you talk to them and you come to the transplant center. But what you're also talking about is also altruistic donors, non-directed donors, someone who's just interested in starting a chain. And we've had quite a few of those lately.
There was a story recently in the paper where one of our dialysis nurses was doing dialysis for our children and he just felt like he wanted to do more so he wanted to offer up his kidney to start a chain. He was able to start a chain that transplanted three people. Two of them were actually children and one was an adult. And we pair with Primary Children's Medical Center on these chains to get them done.
So he started a chain as an altruistic donor but the chains can also just start because you also know somebody in renal failure. But you can come to our transplant center, call our transplant line. We have two transplant coordinators, Sarah and Bruce, that will immediately take your call, talk to you about the donation. There's a website that we have that's coming up right now that explains all of live donation. It'll have videos on it and it'll go through the process. You'll get to know the people that are involved, the nephrologists, the transplant surgeons, the social workers, the coordinators, even our financial people that will help guide you through the insurance.

Scot: And this chain can go nationwide?

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: It can be. So there are a couple things that we've done. There are local chains which will just stay within our program or Primary Children's locally in the Salt Lake City area or if we can't find a chain to do it here we're actually part of a national organization, two national organizations actually: one through UNOS and one through NKR, the National Kidney Registry, that allows us to do large chains. And I think one of the chains we did this past year went to be about 20, 21 transplants.

Scot: Twenty-one. Are you kidding?

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: That's absolutely true. I think our goal is to basically get our local patients transplanted and if we're able to help people nationally that's wonderful too especially because the organs come back to us nationally.

Scot: Any final thoughts?

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen: If you're interested in live kidney donation, think about your kidney going to other people besides your recipient and then knowing that your recipient will get transplanted but if you're able to help multiple people and do that kind of good, then consider doing that. We'll never force anybody not to donate to the person they want to but not always is that choice and if you're available to help more than one person that's pretty neat.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science. Conversation. Medicine. This is The Scope. University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.