8-Way Kidney Transplant, a First, at Johns Hopkins Is Part of 16-Surgery Chain

By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The logistics are mind-boggling: an eight-way, multi-hospital, domino kidney transplant involving six men and 10 women in four states. The surgeries were successfully completed, and the patients, including a Rockville couple and a Fredericksburg man, are recovering and in good condition.

"We're both in pretty good shape," lawyer Bob Brinkmann said yesterday. Brinkmann, 58, of Rockville, received a kidney from donor Theresa Watson, 53, during surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore on June 16."We haven't gone back to work yet, but we're up and about."

Brinkmann's wife, Lisa, also 58, donated her kidney to a man she'd never met: Daniel Bruce, 57, whose surgery was done in Detroit. Bruce's wife, Sally, 47, in turn donated a kidney to Kaaren Johanson, 46, who also received her transplant at Hopkins.

The first-of-its-kind surgery -- believed to be the largest chain of donations in history -- involved hospitals in four cities: Nine of the surgeries took place at Johns Hopkins; other surgeries took place at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center, Oklahoma City, and Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.

Doctors transplanted the eight kidneys over three weeks.

"We finally beat the 'Grey's Anatomy' record for domino transplants," Robert Montgomery, chief transplant surgeon at Hopkins, joked at a news conference hours after the last surgery was completed Monday night. "We hope this creates a movement that encourages other transplant centers to adopt the model we used."

Multiple kidney transplants occur when several people who need transplants have friends or relatives who are willing to donate organs but aren't compatible. A chain of surgeries is arranged in which each donor is matched with a transplant candidate they don't know but who is compatible with the kidney being donated. Chain transplants typically also involve an altruistic donor, who is willing to donate a kidney to anyone and is located through a database.

This particular series of transplants was set in motion by Thomas Koontz, a 54-year-old Fredericksburg man who called Johns Hopkins and offered to donate his kidney after a woman in his church parish he wanted to help proved incompatible.

The transplant was an early gift to the Brinkmanns, who will celebrate their first wedding anniversary this month.

Bob Brinkmann's kidneys began to fail about a year before he and Lisa were married, and his health continued to worsen after their wedding. He was put on dialysis a few days after Christmas.

"He didn't have any energy, and he was tired all the time," said Lisa Brinkmann, a project manager at Watson Wyatt.

Lisa Brinkmann was not a match for her husband but said she hoped that by offering to donate her kidney, they might be able to find a donor sooner. The change in her husband's health has been dramatic, she said.

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