Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit is the first hospital in Michigan to participate in a successful domino donor kidney transplant in which 10 doctors at four hospitals in four states transplanted eight kidneys.
Dan Bruce, 57, of Bad Axe, Mich., received one of the kidneys. In turn, his wife, Sally, donated a kidney to a stranger.
Dan Bruce had been receiving dialysis treatments three times a week for the past 15 months due to kidney failure.
"One thing about dialysis, it takes a lot out of you," said Bruce.
Sally Bruce had originally planned to donate a kidney to her husband. They were just two weeks from surgery when a test found Dan Bruce had built up immunity to his wife's kidney enzymes. That meant Sally could no longer be his donor.
"My heart just sank," said Sally Bruce. "It was very disappointing, and it was more so because I knew he was going to be devastated."
The Bruces asked if there were any other options. That's when a Henry Ford kidney transplant coordinator suggested a paired kidney donation.
Multiple-kidney transplants occur when several people who need transplants have friends or relatives who are willing to donate kidneys but aren't compatible. A chain of surgeries is arranged in which each donor is matched with a transplant candidate who they don't know but is compatible with the kidney being given up. The chain of transplants typically also involve a so-called altruistic donor, who's willing to give a kidney to anyone and is located through a database.
In addition to shortening the wait time for patients on the transplant list, experts said kidneys given by living donors are estimated to have double the longevity of kidneys taken from cadavers.
In this chain, doctors performed 16 surgeries on the eight donors and eight recipients at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, INTEGRIS Baptist Memorial Center in Oklahoma City and Henry Ford Hospital.
On June 15, Dan Bruce received a kidney from a donor at Johns Hopkins. Six days later, Sally Bruce donated a kidney to a stranger at Johns Hopkins.
"I hope that more people will get involved in organ donation, it really is a positive thing, and I can't express in words what it has meant to our family," said Sally Bruce.
Dan and Sally Bruce are both recovering well from their surgeries. They don't know who donated Dan's kidney or who received Sally's, but both said they would like to meet those people someday.
"I'd really like to meet her, to thank her in person, if that's possible," said Dan Bruce. "The first chance I get, I'd like to give her a big hug and a kiss."
For more information on the paired kidney donation program at Henry Ford Hospital, click HERE.
For more on the paired kidney donation program at Johns Hopkins Hospital, click HERE.
To learn more about joining the Michigan Organ Donor Registry, click HERE.