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18 surgeries, nine lives saved: University of Minnesota Health transplant team earns national honor

The National Kidney Registry has honored the University of Minnesota Health kidney transplant program for helping conduct an 18-person kidney transplant chain that saved nine lives across the nation.
Our kidney transplant care team helped conduct a nine-person kidney transplant chain this year. Now, they're being honored for their work by the National Kidney Registry.

It was one of the longest kidney transplant chains of the year—including 18 surgeries, multiple hospitals and nine lives saved. Now, the University of Minnesota Health kidney transplant program is receiving a national honor for its involvement in the remarkable process.

This June, our program at University of Minnesota Medical Center was recognized with the National Kidney Registry’s 2018 “Excellence in Teamwork” Award for helping conduct a complex kidney transplant chain involving 18 patients, including nine donors and nine recipients. The hospital is one of 10 centers across the nation to receive this award.

“Most paired-exchanged chains we participate in are three or four pairs long,” said Transplant Coordinator Margaret Voges, RN, BAN. “It was amazing that so many transplant centers teamed together to help so many people that needed a kidney. Transplant chains like this one bring down barriers, because we are all part of one team, working towards one goal.”

More than 100,000 people in the United States are in need of a kidney transplant but are currently waiting for a matching donor to become available. Recipients generally have two options: a transplant from a living donor or a transplant from a deceased donor. Because of a donor shortage, however, an average of 13 people die each day waiting for a new kidney.

Paired exchange kidney donations are another option that often improve the odds of finding a matching donor. A paired exchange allows would-be recipients with willing yet incompatible donors to match up with other donor-recipient pairs in the same situation. After the two pairs are matched with each other, they “swap” kidneys, with each living donor giving to the other recipient in the other pair. Paired exchange transplant surgeries can be scheduled far in advance, allowing plenty of time for patients and care teams to prepare for the procedure.

Learn more about paired exchange kidney donations.

When swaps are arranged between more than two pairs, they are often referred to as transplant chains. These chains can be long, with dozens of people and numerous transplant centers involved across the country. Kidney chains can also be started by altruistic donors—people giving a kidney without an intended recipient, as was the case in this 18-person chain.

The multidisciplinary team supporting these complex chains includes expert surgeons, anesthesiologists, nephrologists, transplant coordinators, social workers, pain management experts, surgical technologists, registered nurses and integrative health specialists from across University of Minnesota Heath.

University of Minnesota Health has a long history of leadership in kidney transplantation. Learn more about our transplant program.

“By donating one kidney, a donor can make transplant a reality for one or more people,” said University of Minnesota Health Transplant Surgeon Ty Dunn, MD, who is the surgical director of the adult kidney transplant program and living donor kidney program. Dunn is also a faculty member at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

The University of Minnesota Health kidney transplant program is one of the oldest and largest in the world, and is internationally renowned for its expertise. To date, University of Minnesota Health care teams have performed more than 9,000 kidney transplants.

The University of Minnesota Health transplant team regularly performs living donor kidney transplants arranged through the paired exchange program, including this recent nine-pair transplant.

“We routinely educate and offer paired exchange to help inform our patients and families of all their options,” Voges said. “Some choose paired donation even when they are compatible—because they can leverage paired donation for a younger donor or a better match, or even just to help other patients. We share the ultimate goal—to get them transplanted prior to needing dialysis, and with the best long term outcome.”