It’s a way of paying it forward that far outreaches any small act of kindness: Donating an organ to a stranger.
It all began with a Good Samaritan kidney donor who set off a chain of organ donations.
The Paired Kidney exchange program, also known as a "kidney swap", happens when a living kidney donor is not compatible with their recipient (i.e. two best friends wanting to be a donor/recipient pair but not being compatible), so kidney exchanges will occur with another donor/recipient pair that is a correct match.
In turn, each donor will donate a kidney and each recipient will match with a donor somewhere who has signed up for the program.
It’s a win-win that doctors believe increases the chances of those needing a kidney of receiving one.
Last week, Good Samaritan donor Jim Frederick from Colorado Springs donated one of his kidneys simply because he wanted to help someone else.
“I only need one kidney, and the other one is healthy,” Fredrick said. “If one or two or three others consider doing this too, it's a big deal. A really big deal.”
After going through the necessary blood work and testing at UC health, Fredrick matched with a recipient in Colorado. From there, that recipients donor then matched with a needy recipient in Hawaii
As part of the paired exchange program, the donated kidney was flown more than 3,000 miles away to that recipient. Miraculously within 12-24 hours, the procedure was done successfully.
Meanwhile, back in Colorado, Ryan Davis, a husband and father of three, had been awaiting a kidney match for over a year.
“My health journey began 15 years ago when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes,” Davis said. “I went on dialysis about a year ago, and have been on a kidney waiting list since then.”
Last month, Davis learned he had matched with a donor in Hawaii, who was also part of the paired kidney exchange program.
“They said ‘We’ve got this kidney for you and it’s a 100 percent match! Would you like it?'" Davis recalled. "I said, 'Ummm, yes!”
“Then they said 'Your donor is from Hawaii, and the kidney is going to take a ride across the ocean.' I was like, 'Whoa!'”
According to Dr. Tom Bak, transplant surgeon at UCHealth, this is paired kidney exchange was the first ever done over an ocean.
“We fly organs all across the country pretty frequently for this program, so it’s definitely becoming more common,” Dr. Bak said. “A flight to Hawaii is really not much different than a flight to New York, but the concept of flying organs over the ocean is neat.”
This neat concept has given people Davis a second chance at a healthy life.
“I have daughters that I want to walk down the aisle, and I am absolutely going to do that, no question,” Davis said. “I can’t thank these donors enough. My donor is giving be a fresh start… and I’m grateful.”