One of the Largest Living-Donor Kidney Transplant Chains

Nine Donors and Nine Recipients Meet Face-to-face for the First Time

All 12 of the donors and recipients attended the June 8 press conference.

All 18 donors and recipients attended the June 8 press conference.

Fourteen weeks after being part of the largest internal living-donor kidney transplant chain in Nebraska history, 18 people from different cities, states and backgrounds met face-to-face for the first time. The week of Feb. 27, nine patients received kidneys at Nebraska Medicine — Nebraska Medical Center from nine living donors. Previously, the largest internal living-donor kidney transplant chain here was a three-way exchange in July 2016.

This 18-person chain marks one of the largest single center kidney transplant chains involving a pediatric recipient in the United States. It’s also one of the largest single center kidney transplant chains performed in the U.S. in which none of the recipients were on hemodialysis (where a machine filters the patient’s blood outside their body). A 52-year-old Omaha woman, who wanted to donate her kidney in memory of a friend, started the chain.

Arika Hoffman, MD, became emotional while discussing the rare event.

Arika Hoffman, MD, transplant surgeon, became emotional while discussing the rare event.

“Without her, this never would have happened,” explains Arika Hoffman, MD, transplant surgeon. “One selfless act of an anonymous donor impacted the lives of 18 people.”

That woman is Sue Venteicher, a wife, mother and grandmother, who worked as a phlebotomist at Nebraska Medicine in 1988, before making the switch to Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.

“We can always do something for somebody else. It’s not the things you have – it’s the things you do for other people. Donating my kidney has been a wonderful experience,” says Venteicher. “When I worked at Nebraska Medicine, I always thought, ‘I could give my kidney to somebody.’ But at the time, I was busy having babies, so the idea went on the back burner.”

After raising her seven children, the opportunity to donate a kidney presented itself. Michael Peters was a former patient that Venteicher cared for at Children’s. He received a heart transplant as an infant and now needed a kidney transplant. Venteicher was tested – but unfortunately, wasn’t a good match. Peters received a kidney from a different donor in the summer of 2016. Shortly after, the transplant failed and his health problems worsened. Peters died in January at the age of 20. One month later, Venteicher donated her kidney to an anonymous recipient at Nebraska Medicine in honor of Peters.

Once the transplant team knew Venteicher was willing to start a kidney transplant chain, the planning process began in October 2016 and took about five months. Patient names were matched and rearranged several times on a large board in the transplant offices. The transplant team referred to this board as the Board of Hope – as it gave people a chance to receive living-donor transplants that otherwise would not.

The woman who started the chain, Sue Venteicher, was presented a unique "Tree of Life" necklace by

The woman who started the chain, Sue Venteicher, was presented a unique “Tree of Life” necklace by transplant surgeon Alexander Maskin, MD.

A kidney chain is an approach to living-donor transplantation in which an anonymous donor comes forward to donate a kidney to someone they do not know, starting a chain of events where patients with incompatible donors swap kidneys for a compatible one. Kidney transplants from living donors last much longer and tend to do better postoperatively. If individuals are open to doing a chain, the transplant team actively looks for exchanges.

“We have an obligation to get as many people transplanted as possible – especially with the scarce resource of deceased kidney donors. Exchanges and chains are the way to do that,” explains Dr. Hoffman. “The most exciting part about this chain was that it included recipients who were very difficult to match.”

“Many hours were spent at the Board of Hope, plotting, planning and finding potential matches,” says Vicki Hunter, Kidney/Pancreas Transplant manager. “We had to make sure everyone was healthy enough to participate. If a single person dropped out, the entire chain would fall apart.”

The morning of Feb. 27, Venteicher walked into the Nebraska Medical Center to start the chain. Two transplants were performed each day on Feb. 27 and 28, March 1 and 2, with the final transplant happening on March 3. Transplant surgeon Alexander Maskin, MD, performed the donor surgeries (known as a donor nephrectomy) and Dr. Hoffman transplanted them into the recipients. The chain included five patients who had not yet started dialysis, four who had a difficult time finding a match, and one person who was transplanted off the wait list. None of the recipients knew who gave them a kidney – until now.

On June 8, the 18 people involved in the chain finally met.

“This is our labor of love,” says Hunter. “It wouldn’t be possible without the living donors putting complete trust in the transplant team and saying ‘yes’ to the option of a chain. The donors didn’t know who they would ultimately give a kidney to, but they knew the end result was their intended recipient being transplanted.”

6-12 Kidney Chain wide of presser

Nebraska Medicine – Nebraska Medical Center is home to one of the most reputable and well-known organ transplant programs in the country. Since 1970, the organization has performed more than 1,000 living-donor kidney transplants. Nebraska Medicine transplants more patients on peritoneal dialysis (where the lining of the abdomen filters blood inside the body) than any other program in the world. It also performs more deceased donor kidney transplants on individuals who are nearing – but not yet started on dialysis – than any other program in the country.

Each year, the number of patients needing kidney transplantation increases while the number of deceased donors has remained about the same. If you’d like more information about becoming a living kidney donor, visit www.nebraskamed.com/kidneydonor.

For more on the celebration, watch our video below.

6-12 Kidney Chain Graphic JPG

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