Transplant Helps Mismatched Donors

July 6, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
-- Every few minutes in the U.S., someone dies waiting for a kidney transplant. Nearly 80,000 people are on the waiting list, yet fewer than 17,000 transplants are performed each year. Now, doctors are finding ways to trick the immune system and help patients who would typically reject a donated organ.From the care-free days of childhood through the triumphs and tragedies of life, there's been one constant: sisters Barbara and MaryBeth have done it all together.

"She's my son's godmother," MaryBeth told Ivanhoe. "She lives down the street. We do a lot together."

When Barbara was struggling with polycystic kidney disease and needed a transplant, MaryBeth was the first to volunteer.

At first, doctors told the sisters this was a journey they'd have to take alone. They weren't a match. Barbara put herself on the waiting list and started dialysis.

"She was so sick," MaryBeth recalled. "It wasn't an alternative to wait for some unknown donor."

Keith Melancon, M.D., a transplant surgeon from Georgetown University, had an answer. An incompatible kidney transplant helps people with different blood types and also those who have antibodies that reject donated organs. This makes up one-third of the people on the waiting list.

"What we can do now is actually get rid of these antibodies and then perform transplantation," Dr. Melancon told Ivanhoe.

Before the transplant, patients undergo a process that filters out the bad antibodies. Then, medication stops the body from producing new ones.

"We are able to do transplant even if the match isn't that good," Dr. Melancon said.

It has about the same success rate as a traditional transplant. There is a higher risk of infection. Patients are in the hospital for 10 to 14 days compared to five to seven days for a traditional transplant.

For Barbara and MaryBeth, it worked.

"I always say she is the real hero of this story," Barbara told Ivanhoe. "I needed a kidney. She gave it to me. I got better. It changed my life."

Through it all, they've kept their sense of humor.

"I ask her all the time, 'How you feeling? How you taking care of that kidney?'" MaryBeth said.

Most of all, they gained a newfound respect for the bonds of sisterhood.

For patients who need an even stronger formula for killing off bad antibodies, doctors are using a cancer drug to prevent the body from destroying the donated kidney.

The wait for a kidney can stretch four to five years. More than 4,000 people die on the waiting list each year.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE VISIT:
Georgetown MD Physician Referral Line
(202) 342-2400
www.georgetownuniversityhospital.org
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