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Anonymous donor sparks chain of five kidney transplants

One person's desire to save a stranger's life sparked a chain of surgeries involving 10 individuals and five kidney transplants at regional hospitals in less than a week.

The chain of life-saving surgeries came through a regional "kidney swap" effort that Sanford Medical Center in Fargo and Abbott Northwestern Hospital and University of Minnesota Medical Center at Fairview, both in Minneapolis, are involved in.

The Minneapolis donor who started the chain sought to donate a kidney to a stranger, after it was too late to give one to a relative in need of a transplant.

The donor was matched with a potential recipient in Fargo, who received the transplant July 13. By Monday, four other transplants had been done as part of a paired-exchange transplant program.

Through the exchange, an individual signs up to donate their kidney in the name of a friend or relative who needs one, but doesn't match that individual.

By donating the kidney to someone else, the desired recipient is then guaranteed to receive a different donated kidney from some other donor who matches.

The chain continues as that donor's friend or relative is also guaranteed a kidney from yet another donor in the chain.

Through admittedly confusing connections between the pairs of donors and recipients who matched others like them, doctors successfully administered the 10 surgeries and five kidney transplants among the three hospitals.

Two of the surgeries took place in Fargo, while four took place at each of the Minneapolis hospitals.

Hospital officials said all patients involved are recovering well. Because the donations were anonymous, the individuals were unavailable for comment.

But, such a chain of transplant surgeries is very rare, said Dr. Bhargav Mistry, a Sanford Health transplant surgeon who administered the Fargo surgeries and oversaw the regional swaps.

"I have been doing transplantation for about 15 years, but this is a totally new concept," Mistry said.

The idea of kidney-swap programs has been around only for about three years in certain areas of the country.

Nearly 80,000 patients are listed on the national registry, and they often wait an average of three years for a kidney, Mistry said.

Kristen Daum is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.