UCLA Kidney Exchange Program "Opens Floodgates" to Transplants for Hundreds of Patients

By Gordon Tokumatsu
|  Tuesday, Dec 3, 2013  |  Updated 10:25 AM PDT
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The UCLA Kidney Exchange Program finds a woman a kidney match. The unique program no longer restricts patients to a long national waiting list, but instead works as an exchange. Gordon Tokumatsu reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 2, 2013.

Gordon Tokumatsu

The UCLA Kidney Exchange Program finds a woman a kidney match. The unique program no longer restricts patients to a long national waiting list, but instead works as an exchange. Gordon Tokumatsu reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 2, 2013.

During this season of giving, a UCLA program that connects patients with matching through an innovative exchange program celebrated on Monday more than 100 transplants.

The UCLA Kidney Exchange Program calls itself an “innovative twist on efforts” to increase the organ donor pool. It gives patients who are unable to receive a kidney from a loved one the change to still receive a kidney through an exchange between incompatible donor-recipient pairs.

“It opened the doors, the floodgates, to hundreds and hundreds of people to be able to get a transplant,” said Greg Thompson, a kidney donor.

Thompson’s healthy kidney did not match his ailing wife’s body, but once he was in the exchange, it went to save the life of a man in Oxnard.

In exchange, his wife received a kidney that did match her own.

No longer restricted to long national waiting lists – which either require donations to come from the dead or compatible relatives – the UCLA program lets patients join a much larger pool.

“They come from different backgrounds, different ethnicities. It just goes to show: we're all one and the same,” said Dr. Jeffrey Veale, with the UCLA Kidney Exchange Program.

Yessica Sahagun’s sister-in-law offered to donate her kidney. But, as is often the case, the kidney was not compatible with Sahagun’s body.

Doctors at UCLA convinced Sahagun’s sister-in-law to join an exchange, donating her healthy organ to a complete strange elsewhere and another stranger’s kidney could match Sahagun. They found a match.

“It gave me life back,” Sahagun said.

The UCLA program has performed 104 kidney transplants so far, and the 105th transplant is set to happen within the coming weeks.

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