Adventist Review Online | Paired for Life: Kidney Donors, Recipients Connect in Virtual Reunion

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Loma Linda’s living kidney donor program is giving people a second lease on life.

In California, United States, two kidney donors and their recipients — each other’s parents — held a virtual reunion on April 22, 2021, during National Donate Life month.

Just a few weeks before the reunion, the two families had never met but are now connected through the gift of life and say they’re grateful their paths crossed in this unconventional way.

Their transplant journeys are similar. Brittin Gillespie, 31, of Bishop, California, wanted to donate to her father, Jeff Aukee, 56, who was battling kidney disease with thrice-weekly dialysis treatments, but she was not a match. Three hundred miles (about 480 kilometers) away in Santa Maria, California, 32-year-old Jason Turton wanted to help his mother, Carolyn Turton, 63, suffering from stage 4 kidney failure, but was also not a match.

Thankfully, all four were enrolled in kidney swap programs via Loma Linda University Health and Sutter Health’s California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC), making a paired exchange possible.

Mixed and Matched

Paired kidney exchange allows would-be recipients with willing yet incompatible donors — such as a spouse, sibling (in this case child to parent), relative, or friend — to match up with other donor-recipient pairs in the same situation. Michael E. de Vera, director of the Loma Linda University Transplant Institute, said kidney exchanges like these, in which two young donors give their kidneys to one another’s parents, are uncommon.

“About a thousand kidney swaps between two or more pairs of recipients and donors occur in the U.S. every year,” de Vera said. “Of those swaps, only a few of them constitute situations like this, where two young donors swap their kidneys to recipients who happen to be each other’s parents.”

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