Good Samaritan donation launches kidney swap chain resulting in three transplants

Brooke Reeves, a 47-year-old mother of five children and grandmother of ten, will celebrate this Mother’s Day knowing that she has helped three people get a lifesaving kidney transplant. Her recent altruistic kidney donation to a stranger enabled Medical City Fort Worth’s Transplant Institute and the National Kidney Registry (NKR) to complete a paired kidney exchange (PKE), or kidney swap chain. The final kidney recipient was 50-year-old Herman JB Brown of Arlington, who received a lifesaving transplant in late April at Medical City Fort Worth.

Reeves says she began thinking about becoming a living kidney donor after her mother was killed in a car accident just after Mother’s Day 2015. She said her decision to donate a kidney to a stranger “brings honor to my mother and to God, who just put this whole thing together. I’m just happy I could help somebody.”

“My mother, two of my grandchildren and I were all in the car accident, and my mother was killed instantly,” Reeves recalled. “We were all registered organ donors, but mother’s injuries prohibited her from being a donor. I thought at the time, it’s too bad that you have to die before you can donate. But I had it on my mind that I wanted to do something. I prayed about it, talked to my pastor and my family, and came to the decision that I wanted to donate a kidney to a stranger.”

Brown, who received a “payback” kidney that came back to Fort Worth because Reeves started her kidney chain at Medical City Fort Worth, says he has had an army of friends praying for him through a Facebook group. He even got on Facebook live from the hospital – not long after surgery – to provide an update about the successful surgery.

Brown says he was told that his kidney came from a 45-year-old living donor from Washington, D.C., as part of a kidney swap chain.

“That’s why I tell people that God is real,” Brown says. “You just need to have faith and believe that everything that you prayed for and asked God for is coming. I want to thank the transplant team and the doctors here for the awesome job they have done. I’m praying for them and their continued success.”

Medical City Fort Worth’s Transplant Institute is one of only three transplant centers in Texas – and the only one in the DFW area – that work with the National Kidney Registry (NKR) to organize kidney swap chains started by altruistic donors like Reeves, according to Joe Sinacore, NKR’s director of education and development.

“A single chain starts with one Good Samaritan donor who wishes to donate to a stranger, after being worked up by a hospital to see if they would be a good donor,” Sinacore said. “After the initial altruistic donation, the donor/recipient pairs keep ‘paying it forward’ until you get to a wait list patient at the end of the chain. That’s when the transplant center where the chain began – in this case, Medical City Fort Worth – gets to offer a kidney to another patient on their wait list (“payback kidney). There’s a lot of coordination involved between NKR and our partner hospitals to match the various donor and recipient pairs in our database.”

A paired kidney exchange works this way: Many patients in need of a kidney have family members or friends willing to donate. But a patient and a potential donor must go through a series of tests (including blood typing, tissue typing, and serum cross-match) to determine whether they're a good match and whether the transplant will be successful. Sometimes a patient has a willing donor who is not an acceptable match. For example, a mother wants to donate a kidney to her child, but she’s not a match. The child might still get a kidney through a transplant chain. The child could receive a kidney from an altruistic donor like Reeves, who is matched through the NKR database. Then, the mother would donate her kidney to a stranger in the NRK database who is a match. That stranger’s brother might then donate to another stranger in need, and so on – all matched through the database. Transplant centers like Medical City Fort Worth, with the help of NKR, can link up numerous non-matching pairs of patients and willing donors, then shuffle around the available kidneys so that all the recipients end up with the organ that's the best fit for them, regardless of their relationship with the donor.

In 2015, Medical City Fort Worth was part of the largest kidney swap in U.S. history, which involved 70 recipients and donors across the nation.

For information about organ donation and transplantation at Medical City Fort Worth’s Transplant Institute, phone 817-834-8500 or go online to MedicalCityFortWorth.com/transplant.