After Kai Fong, a tennis coach from Idaho, donated his kidney to a stranger at the hospital in 2012, he set off a chain reaction inspiring nearly a dozen other people to step forward as living kidney donors, enabling 11 people across the United States to get the kidneys they needed.
Marietta resident Phyllis Anderson waited five years for a kidney before Fong came forward as an altruistic donor and was found to be a match. Anderson suffers from diabetes and found herself battling end stage renal disease during a bout with pneumonia in 2005. After his wife Phyllis got the kidney she needed, Steve Anderson decided donating a kidney to a complete stranger was “a no-brainer” after a stranger did the same for his wife. Anderson’s kidney was matched with a recipient in Dallas, Texas, and in January 2013, he flew to Texas to donate his kidney.
The kidney transplant chain came back to Piedmont Atlanta when Symone Foster received a kidney from a stranger in Michigan. Foster, who was diagnosed with lupus in 2004, had a high level of antibodies that made it difficult to find a kidney match. Her husband Steven Foster decided he, too, should take a chance on someone and give them the same opportunity his wife was given for a second chance at life.
Oct. 4, Foster was admitted to the hospital for the first time in his life and had the first and only surgery he’s ever had that would give Marie Cobb, a fellow Georgian who was just one operating room away, the kidney she needed. For Cobb, a paired kidney exchange was the only hope for a second transplant. She knew from her previous attempt at finding a donor that no one in her family was a match.
Her first kidney, from a deceased donor, had lasted 13 years until Cobb contracted E. coli, a bacterium that damaged her donated kidney, from eating lettuce. One night, she saw a news clip about a woman who used Craigslist to find a living kidney donor. Cobb decided to try a similar method and created an ad on Facebook. Eight people replied and were tested – none were a match. Two entered into the paired exchange program on her behalf and so, Cobb not only got the kidney she needed but found a donor who could continue the chain.
Jessica Smith is one of the people who responded to Cobb’s Facebook ad and offered to be involved with the paired exchange program once she found out she wasn’t a match. As it turns out, Smith and Cobb do not live very far apart and the two have become friends as a result of this situation.
“It’s all worth it in the end,” Smith said of her kidney donation. “Regardless of whether or not you know the person you donate to, you save someone’s life with this gift.”
Finally, in December, the chain transplant ended when a woman in Savannah received Smith’s kidney. That patient, who is unidentified until she consents to reveal her name, needed a kidney because of a genetic condition called polycystic kidney disease and was told chances of finding a match would be “one in a million” due to the high level of antibodies in her system.
For years, she prayed for a kidney as she underwent dialysis every night after doctors had to remove both kidneys. Then, one day in early December, she got the call from a Piedmont Atlanta transplant coordinator, who said, “How would you like a kidney for Christmas?”
Though nearly a dozen lives were saved as a result of a chain reaction one man’s altruistic donation set off, there are still nearly 99,000 people currently waiting for kidney transplants in the U.S. Yet, only 14,000 kidney transplants are performed each year.
Information: visit www.piedmonttransplant.org