MIAMI -- Say a patient needs a kidney transplant, but no close relative is a compatible match. Now, there’s a way to save that patient’s life and someone else’s, too.
The Miami Transplant Institute of the University of Miami and the Jackson Memorial’s Medical Center has successfully performed the first kidney exchange transplant in Florida on three couples.
The kidney matching exchange, a program newly launched by the institute, is performed with pairs of donors and recipients who are not genetically compatible between them. Donors give their organs to a person in another couple and receive in exchange a kidney that can be used by his recipient.
In the three-way transplant announced this week, the surgery was performed on three pairs: Dale Jasko and his son Jonathan Jasko; Mary Rivero Morales and her husband Omar Figueroa; and Alana Gonzáles and her husband Gabriel García.
Jonathan Jasko was the donor for Gonzáles, Figueroa was the donor for Dale Jasko, and García was the donor for Rivero Morales.
The MTI’s surgeons performed all six surgeries simultaneously on July 9 in six operating rooms at Jackson Hospital. More than 60 healthcare professionals took part in the operations.
The recipients suffered from renal diseases or complications that required urgent kidney transplants.
At a press conference at Jackson Memorial on Thursday, the donors and recipients met for the first time.
“I feel as though I’ve been born again,” said Rivero Morales, who had suffered since birth from a condition that affected the filtering function of her kidneys and received the organ donated by García. “It’s a new life and a second opportunity. I give thanks to my husband, to [Gabriel] and to all the doctors because they have been wonderful.”
Dale Jasko, 64, who received a kidney donated by Figueroa, suffered from hypertension, diabetes and renal insufficiency and had to remain under dialysis treatment before receiving a transplant. His ultimate happiness, Jasko said, is that thanks to Figeroa’s generosity, he will get to meet his future grandchildren and see his son Jonathan, 22, graduate from the university.
“To be 9 1/2 hours every day connected to a machine is not easy at all,” Jasko said. “It becomes the focus of your life and limits you in everything you do.
“When I found the program I was very excited that there was an opportunity for me even though my son Jon is not compatible,” Jasko added. “At the age of only 22, he gave his kidney to someone else, and that is unbelievable. I am very proud of him.”
Gonzáles, who received Jonathan Jasko’s kidney, said she was “forever grateful” to the young man for granting her a second opportunity in life. At age 20, Gonzáles was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease that attacks the body’s tissues and organs.
“I’m very surprised at the generosity of a young man like him, to have the heart to help his father and at the same time help me, knowing that he has an entire life ahead of him,” Gonzáles said. She is a teacher and mother of Esteban, 4, who accompanied her at the press conference.
“There are no words to describe how much I appreciate the opportunity to continue sharing with my family and my son,” she added. “It’s incredible how a transplant can change your life.”
Gonzáles used to go through 3 1/2 hours of dialysis three times a week, which always left her exhausted. Her biggest excitement now, Gonzáles said, is to be able to giver her son “the quality of life he deserves,” to have the energy to carry him in her arms and go to the park to play.
For Jonathan, to donate his kidney was something he didn’t have to think about twice. “I was told of the risks and how it would affect my life, but I really didn’t have any objection. For all that my father has done for me, this was only a way to thank him.”
And though he said he would have liked for his father to receive his own kidney, he said the important thing for him was to save someone’s life.
“Now my father will be able to see me grow up and it’s the same for Alana, who will now see her son grow up,” said Jonathan, who plans to go back to classes at Palm Beach State College after a two-week recovery period.
The three-way kidney transplant was the first surgery of this type in Florida, where the organ exchanges were performed among living people, avoiding a long waiting list to receive an organ from a cadaver.
“Many people don’t have access to transplants and unfortunately die,” said Michael Goldstein, director of kidney transplants at MTI. “This program allows the transplant to be performed with living donors and without a waiting list. It’s an innovating idea where there are no barriers for a transplant.”
Giselle Guerra, medical director of the Kidney Living Donor Program, underlined in the news conference the importance of educating future donors and patients about the benefits of the program, especially among Latin families, who tend to “be afraid of donating because they worry about their own lives.”
“This is a process in which only the healthiest people are chosen to donate,” Guerra said. “You always want to donate to the person you love, but it’s important that they know that the donors not only helped the person they loved but helped also someone else. What these people did is really a miracle.”
Although the program took several years to be a reality, Guerra said, the work will continue to make a difference in the transplant patients who are most in need and match them with the most compatible donors.
“This is only the beginning,” said Guerra, who added that they will work to extend the living donor program to other medical centers nationwide.