Allegheny Health Network Transplant Team Participates in Nation’s Largest Multi-State Paired Kidney Exchange

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Allegheny General Hospital's Center for Abdominal Transplantation played a pivotal role in a 68-surgery, 34-transplant chain, making the gift of life possible for two Pittsburgh-area patients and others across several states.

Ngoc Thai, MD, PhD

Living donor transplantation is a terrific option and the paired exchange process expands this possibility to many more people in need.

As participants in the nation’s largest multi-state paired kidney exchange to date, 34 people with advanced renal disease, including two from the greater Pittsburgh region, have received the gift of life though a unique approach to living donor transplantation.

Paired kidney exchanges are designed for transplant candidates who have a willing but incompatible living donor. An organized exchange network matches such donor-recipients with other incompatible pairs for an exchange of suitable donors.    

Allegheny General Hospital (AGH), part of the Allegheny Health Network, was one of 26 leading U.S. transplant centers to participate in an unprecedented national chain of paired kidney exchanges which took place over the course of two months beginning in early January, 2015.

Organized by the National Kidney Registry and coordinated locally by the Center for Organ Recovery and Education (CORE), the exchange also involved the Cleveland Clinic, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Walter Reed Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, Mt. Sinai Hospital, Ohio State University Medical Center and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, among others.

Of the 68 transplant and donor procedures performed in the course of the kidney exchange, four took place at AGH, including two on January 6 and two on March 26.

The January 6 participants were kidney recipient Dennis Matteucci, 76, of Cleveland, OH, and his wife, Roberta Matteucci, 65, who donated her organ to a recipient at New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Transplant Center.

On March 26, Gary Watson, 65, of Meyersdale, PA, received a kidney from a donor at the University of Maryland, while Christina Brock, 44, donated a kidney to a patient at New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center. Christina, also of Meyersdale, is the lifelong friend of Gary’s daughter.

All of the patients who underwent surgery at AGH are doing exceptionally well, said Ngoc Thai, MD, PhD, Director of AGH’s Center for Abdominal Transplantation.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to participate in a paired kidney exchange of this magnitude. The number of people on the waiting list for kidney transplantation unfortunately continues to far exceed the supply of cadaveric donor organs. Living donor transplantation is a terrific option and the paired exchange process expands this possibility to many more people in need,” Dr. Thai said.    

In addition to Dr. Thai, other AGH physicians participating in the paired exchange included transplant surgeons Peter Abrams, MD, Tadahiro Uemura, MD and Kusum Tom, MD.

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), of approximately 80,000 patients in the United States each year who are listed for kidney transplantation, just 16,000 or so receive a donor organ. The average waiting time for kidney transplantation in the US is now close to four years.

Since the advent of living donor transplantation more than two decades ago, thousands of patients have benefited from the procedure, but an even greater number have suffered from having a willing but incompatible living donor.

Over the past decade, thanks to the establishment of networks like NKR, larger scale paired exchanges have become more common in the U.S.

NKR, which maintains the largest national database of incompatible donor-and-recipient pairs, analyzes millions of potential pairings to create chains of all sizes. The New York-based organization has helped facilitate more than 1,300 successful transplants over the past six years.

“Paired exchange networks such as NKR do an amazing job in overcoming significant logistical challenges to make paired donation a viable alternative, particularly when exchanges involve multiple centers in locations throughout the country. They have introduced a pivotal new paradigm that is helping further our quest to increase the rate of kidney transplantation in this country,” said Dr. Thai.

One specific technology that is used to more efficiently coordinate surgical procedures in multi-state exchanges of donor kidneys is a remote tracking device that allows a transplant team to see via a web site portal where the incoming kidney is at any given time.

By tracking the donor kidneys, the participating surgical teams are able to much more effectively plan and perform the surgical procedures, Dr. Thai said.

A center for kidney transplantation since 1987, AGH transplant specialists have played a prominent role in the advancement of the field. Surgeons at the hospital were the first in the region to perform bilateral adult kidney transplantation in 1997, the first to remove a kidney from a living donor laparoscopically in 1998 and the first to perform robotic assisted donor nephrectomy in 2011.

Kidney transplantation has become one of the most common and successful organ transplant procedures and outcomes from living donor transplantation are considerably better than cadaveric donors, Dr. Thai said.


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Jennifer Davis
Allegheny Health Network
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