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For nearly six years, Carrie Tucker- Tillman, 63, of Hampton has undergone hemodialysis for more than three hours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Machines clear toxins from her body, performing the functions her remaining kidney no longer can. She has been on a transplant waiting list for the last four years.
Her son, Anthony Tucker, of Charlotte, N.C., wants to give her one of his kidneys, but he is not a match.
That used to be the end of the story. But Tucker recently completed an evaluation that could lead to him donating his organ to a stranger, while the kidney from another living donor would go to his mother. The idea is called paired exchange.
The Virginia Transplant Center at Henrico Doctors' Hospital, where Tucker-Tillman is on the waiting list, is re-contacting people it could not match locally about joining the larger pool of donors and recipients in the National Kidney Registry. In April 2008, the center became a participant in the nonprofit registry, which hopes to facilitate 500 matches this year and 10 times that in two years, on its way to doubling the current number of kidney transplants nationally through matches from live donors.
That's important, because the number of patients in need is expected to expand exponentially while the number of deceased donors per million population remains flat. Diabetes and hypertension are the two main causes of renal failure in the United States.
If projections from the kidney registry come true, "It's going to change the way we do business forever," says Dr. Kenneth B. Brown, one of three kidney-transplant surgeons with Richmond Surgical Group.
Already, one local patient-donor pair in the program has been matched. On Feb. 18, a Henrico County donor underwent surgery to donate her kidney to a stranger in California; when she awoke, her mother, who lives in Goochland County, had a transplanted kidney from a live donor in Maryland. In total, the chain involved six pairs in those three states and Nevada and New Jersey.
In addition to improving the recipient's quality of life, a transplant can replace the $70,000-a-year cost to keep a patient on dialysis with immunosuppressant drugs that cost about $14,000 a year.
Tucker-Tillman, a retired post-office employee, hails the news that the registry might find her a kidney soon, but she's not anxious about it. Son Anthony, though, wonders, "When are we going to pull this kidney?"