CAMC Kidney Transplant Center completes first living donor chain for three pairs

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — For the first time in West Virginia history, doctors have successfully completed a living donor chain of kidney transplants for three people.

The chain started at the CAMC Kidney Transplant Center in Charleston with Johanna Holt, a wife and mother, who wanted to donate her kidney to her husband William Wallace. Because Holt’s kidney was not a good match for Wallace due incompatible blood types and other factors, her kidney was instead transplanted into another recipient who had a willing donor but was not suitable. To keep the chain going, that donor gave a kidney to an unknown patient.

While the donors were not able to give their kidneys directly to their loved ones, Holt said it meant she was able to save more than one life in the process.

“I was super happy that were going to get a kidney for him, I felt very blessed that I was going to be able to help somebody else. As much as you’re concerned about your loved one, there’s just as much concern for that other family because you know they’re going through the same thing that we are,” Holt told MetroNews.

The couple appeared together for an event at CAMC General Monday morning to mark the milestone. Holt’s surgery was complete on Aug. 22. She donated to Alice Hensen. Hensen’s willing donor Jessica Hensen donated to Katresa Jacobs the following day. Jacob’s willing donor John Jacobs donated to Holt’s husband William Wallace on Aug. 24.

CAMC Lead Transplant/Living Donor Coordinator Susan Hanna said having a donor chain helps speed up the process to save more lives.

“Without this option of the paired donation, there would still be people waiting on the list,” she said.

While Holt was not able to meet her recipient, the couple did get to meet Wallace’s donor. She said it was an emotional moment she’ll never forget.

“I was surprised and caught off guard. He came up and said, ‘I think you’re getting my kidney,'” she said. “We got pictures when they first met, so it was a very surreal experience.”

Wallace said it was a smooth process and he’s feeling great now.

“Everything just came into place, and it all worked out,” he said with a smile.

For Holt, the donation to someone she didn’t know–hit home.

“I lost my mother a year ago and I lost my brother a couple weeks before this happened, so I also felt like I was able to donate to somebody else’s mother, so they didn’t have to go through the loss that I did,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I feel like that’s another dynamic of this journey for us.”

CAMC Kidney Transplant Surgeon Dr. Shakir Hussein said more often than not, donors don’t know chain pairing exists.

“Around 75-80 percent of all dialysis patients never get the chance to get a kidney transplant. They live and die on the machine. They have no option because the number of kidneys available is very limited,” he said. “That is why I think if there is one thing the public needs to know is, if you donate, you save a life.”

CAMC has done two separate paired exchanges in the past; however, this is the first exchange involving three sets of pairs.

The center has performed nearly 1,800 kidney transplants in Charleston over 35 years, including 94 transplants so far this year.