In hopes of saving her brother, 21-year-old Cera Fearing donated her kidney to her Ray Fearing, 27, who suffered from a common kidney disease. However, when Ray's body rejected the transplant, he elected to pass the kidney on to 67-year-old Erwin Gomez, making this the first documented case of its kind in the U.S.
When a transplanted kidney fails in living patient, the doctors will typically dispose of them. However, with over 73,000 people waiting for transplants, some specialists say doctors should consider reusing organs more often, reported the Associated Press.
The need for kidney transplantation doesn't match our capacity, said Dr. Lorenzo Gallon, a Northwestern University transplant specialist who oversaw the kidney recycling operation. People die on dialysis while waiting for another transplant, he said according to the AP. However, it is unlikely to be common because it is rare that an already transplanted organ would be healthy enough for another patient.
Since the surgery, Gallon conducted tests on the kidney and determined that, while it was once diseased, it is healthy in the second patient. This is the first case, Gallon said, that a disease affecting a kidney in one patient has functioned in another, reported USA Today.
Normally, when a transplant isn't successful, we have to take it out and discard it because it is doing more damage than good to the patient, said Gallon.
Joel Newman, a spokesman for the United Network for Organ Sharing, said previous re-transplants in the United States have occurred when the original recipient died, but the organ was still able to function. He praised the staff of Northwestern for their medical prowess.
To our knowledge, this is the first publicly reported instance where a kidney has been removed from a living person due to the risk of organ failure and re-transplanted, he said, according to the AP.
Cera Fearing of Elk Grove first donated the kidney to her brother Ray on June 16, who suffers from focal segmental glomerulosclerosis. This is a common kidney disease that forms scar tissue in the part of the kidney that filters waste.
The cause of FSGS is unknown, but it has about a 50 percent chance of recurring after a transplant. The disease started to attack Ray's new kidney within days. Gallon said that the kidney could develop into a life-threatening situation if he kept it.
Cera was extremely disappointed at the news.
I just assumed it's damaged, it's garbage, she said, reported the Associated Press.
However, Gallon thought that the kidney might be able to be reused for someone else.
To me giving it to someone else seemed like the right thing to do, said Ray Fearing, reported USA Today. Ray, unfortunately, has not received a new kidney and is currently not on the list for a transplant. He must undergo dialysis several times a week. This was a gift to me, and I wanted to pass along the gift. I didn't realize what a big thing it was at the time.
Cera took solace in the fact that her kidney was able to help another individual and another family.
The fact that they were able to give it to someone that somehow was able to benefit from it was great, she said, reported the AP.
Erwin Gomez of Valparaiso, Ind., was the second recipient. He is a surgeon and a father of five children. He was selected, not only because he was an excellent match for the kidney, but because Gallon thought his medical background could help him understand the complexities that would go into the operation. He worried about taking the kidney, concerned about the potential risks. However, the team at Northwestern explained the possible benefits and he agreed.
I consider myself blessed, Gomez said, according to USA Today. It's worked out very well and I'm very grateful.
Gomez was in the final stages of kidney failure when he received the kidney from the Fearings.
The removal and the re-transplant took place on July 1 and within two days the transplanted kidney regained its proper function, saving Gomez.
He looks very good now, Gallon said. It's almost like when you put water into a flower that hasn't seen water for a month. It's like you're feeding it life, and it looks better and better over time.
Gomez still has to take anti-rejection drugs, but he is off dialysis.
I finally feel normal, he said.
Gallon said that it is not uncommon for patients to undergo more than one transplant for a kidney, referring to Ray. He said Ray had a good prognosis if a new organ was not rejected, reported the AP.