Same Kidney Transplanted Into Two Patients Within Two Weeks
April 26, 2012

Same Kidney Transplanted Into Two Patients Within Two Weeks

In a first of its kind transplant scenario, a kidney that had been donated to a patient in need, was removed and implanted into a second recipient after it failed in the first transplant patient.

Ray Fearing, a 27-year-old from Illinois received the kidney from his sister Cera after a long battle with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a disease in which scar tissue develops on the part of the kidney that filters waste out of the blood, ultimately causing kidney failure.

Signs of his illness reoccurred just days after he received the transplant posing life-threatening symptoms. Doctors informed Fearing that he could potentially save someone else´s life by donating the organ and allowing doctors to re-implant it into another patient in need of transplant, something that had never successfully been done before with a kidney.

“I had been waiting for 10 years to finally have a normal life,” Fearing told CNN, “When it didn´t work out, for a few days I just curled inward and started losing all hope. It was not an easy time.”

Doctors transplanted Fearing´s kidney into another patient, and to his physicians delight, it thrived in the new recipient, reports CNN's Stephanie Smith.

“When we removed that dysfunctioning kidney from Ray´s environment, it recovered rapidly after being transplanted in a second recipient,” Dr. Lorenzo Gallon, Fearing´s doctor and medical director of the kidney transplant program Northwestern Memorial Hospital, told Smith. “It is the first time that has happened.”

Hospital administration and members of the medical ethics committee reviewed the proposed procedure and evaluated the decision prior to re-implanting the organ. The group discussed the possibility that the kidney would fail to recover from its current level of minor damage due to its short exposure to FSGS while implanted in Fearing, thus failing to function properly in a new patient.

“After numerous discussions to carefully consider this first-ever procedure, we presented Ray with the option to donate his kidney to someone on the national kidney waiting list rather than discarding it,” said Gallon in a press release. “I said the kidney is yours, we can do whatever you want.”

According to CNN's Smith, Gallon asked Fearing, “Are you willing to allow us to see if this kidney might work for someone else?” Fearing did not hesitate. “There are thousands of people waiting for organs, I couldn´t see myself just discarding one.”

Since the surgery, Gallon conducted tests on the kidney and has determined although it was once diseased, it is now healthy in the second patient. Never before, Gallon said, has a disease affecting a kidney in one patient been reversed in another recipient.

“Normally, when a transplant isn´t successful, we have to take it out and discard it because it is doing more damage than good to the patient,” said Gallon, medical director of the hospital´s kidney transplant program.

The second recipient of the organ, surgeon and father of five, Erwin Gomez, 67, of Valparaiso, Ind., is well and thriving, reports Janice Lloyd for USA Today. “I consider myself blessed,” Gomez said. He met Fearing for the first time Wednesday and thanked him. “It´s worked out very well and I´m very grateful.”

Cera Fearing knew her donation “wasn´t a sure thing for Ray, but I am happy the kidney could help someone.” Gomez, a diabetic who also has high blood pressure, was in end-stage kidney failure, Gallon said.

“He looks very good now,” Gallon said. “It´s almost like when you put water into a flower that hasn´t seen water for a month. It´s like you´re feeding it life, and it looks better and better over time.”

For Gomez, receiving Fearing´s organ means he could go back to work as a cardiovascular surgeon, and he has more time with his grandchildren. “I feel bad for him because his misfortune is my gain,” said Gomez, who on Wednesday met Fearing and his sister, Cera.  “I´m completely grateful to them for considering re-transplanting that kidney ... I owe them eternal gratitude.”

The reality Fearing faces now is a long, difficult wait for another organ. “It was hell when I went through it,” said Fearing.  “It is better that my situation helps people than having it take over my life.”