Hopkins Celebrates Quintuple Transplant

Recipient Kristine Jantzi, left, meets donor Honore Rothstein, whose daughter Summer Castleman is in the photograph in foreground.
Recipient Kristine Jantzi, left, meets donor Honore Rothstein, whose daughter Summer Castleman is in the photograph in foreground. (By Matt Houston -- Associated Press)
By Susan Levine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The success and logistics of the first-ever quintuple kidney transplant were heralded yesterday by Johns Hopkins surgeons, while former strangers from as far as Florida and Maine talked of the joy of giving or getting a new chance at life.

The simultaneous marathon operations took place Nov. 14 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and were made possible through a complicated swap involving four transplant candidates who each had a relative willing to donate a kidney, a fifth candidate who had been on a national waiting list and a West Virginia woman who stepped forward to offer her organ to no particular individual for altruistic reasons.

Because of tissue or blood type incompatibility, none of the relatives could donate to her specific family member. But as they traced the possible connections, officials discovered that each turned out to be a fit for someone else in the group, and the five-way match emerged.

"Joy, joy -- it's almost inexplicable," said Sheila Thornton, 63, of Harford County, Md., describing how she felt when told she would receive a kidney from a Sarasota, Fla., woman.

Surgeon Robert Montgomery, who directs the Comprehensive Transplant Center at Hopkins, has advocated a broader system of such pairings to increase the nation's supply of organs and save more lives of desperately ill children and adults. Although more than 72,500 people are waiting for a kidney transplant in the United States, only 11,653 such operations were performed this year through August, with only about 4,400 involving living donors.

At a news conference yesterday, Montgomery called the results of last week's surgeries "a demonstration to the rest of the country that this is what's possible when people work together." Of those who played a critical role, he singled out Honore Rothstein, a 48-year-old computer programmer from Martinsburg, W.Va., whose generosity was motivated by the loss of her husband to a brain hemorrhage and her daughter to a drug overdose.

Although one of her kidneys was transplanted into a Maine woman, it was a gift that "made five transplants possible that would not have occurred," Montgomery said as Rothstein and recipient Kristine Jantzi, 40, sat next to each other. Three men also received donor kidneys. All the patients are doing well, according to the hospital.

The undertaking required 12 surgeons and more than two dozen other doctors and nurses working for 10 hours in half a dozen operating rooms. Twice that many Hopkins staff members, including medical specialists, technicians, social workers, psychologists and pharmacists, took part in the planning and in post-operative care, officials said.

In 2003, the hospital performed what it believed was the world's first triple-swap transplant. Montgomery was in the lead then, too, calling that success "a monumental-type experience." Three years later, it became even more so.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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