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A Roundabout Gift From Son to Father: A New Kidney

In April of 2008, washingtonpost.com video journalist Pierre Kattar donated his kidney to a complete stranger to save his father's life. He documented the unique experience of participating in an eight-person kidney exchange.Video by Pierre Kattar and Alexandra Garcia/washingtonpost.com
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By Delece Smith-Barrow
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Last April, Pierre Kattar Jr. gave his father the gift of all gifts: a new chance at life.

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The gift -- presented in an insulated, red-and-white box at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital -- was a kidney. But Kattar didn't give his left kidney directly to his father: His donation was one of four in an extraordinary eight-person kidney exchange.

With the help of friends, Kattar Jr., a 34-year-old District resident and washingtonpost.com video journalist, created a video documentary of this rare opportunity to get his father an organ he desperately needed.

Pierre Kattar Sr., 61, had suffered for most of his life from hepatitis B, a liver disease, and his kidneys had been weakened by drugs he began taking after a liver transplant in 2001.

After his kidneys stopped functioning in February 2007, four-hour dialysis sessions three times a week became his new lifesaving regime. Kattar Sr., who lives in Chicago, stayed on dialysis for about a year, but as the treatment became too draining, he began to plan for his death.

"He said we didn't need him around anymore," Kattar Jr. said. His father decided that if he didn't receive a new kidney in three months, he would discontinue dialysis and let nature take its course.

But he initially communicated that resolve only to his wife, so Kattar Jr. didn't know the extent of his father's desperation when he decided he had to help. "Being there with him and watching him suffer reinforced my decision to give up a kidney for him," he later recalled about observing one of his father's grueling dialysis sessions.

Father and son turned out to have incompatible blood types, which prevented a direct donation. So the Northwestern Memorial staff connected the pair with two other would-be donors in a similar situation as well as a donor from the hospital's staff and one other recipient. In April, the hospital coordinated the elaborate exchange of four kidneys among eight people.

"This has been a lifetime experience. What we have lived is unique," Kattar Sr. said.

Kattar Sr. was in the hospital for three days after the operation, a day longer than his son. His new kidney functioned well, but other parts of his body faced challenges. One month after the exchange, he underwent surgery to correct an enlarged prostate gland. In June, a stent was placed in his renal artery after it collapsed. And he developed cataracts in both eyes, possibly as a result of taking prednisone before his numerous surgeries. Those were removed in November.

The prednisone also gave him a voracious appetite. He has gained 50 pounds since June, pushing his weight to nearly 300 pounds. Since the extra pounds may cause his body to reject the new kidney, he hopes to undergo lap-banding surgery to reduce the size of his stomach in the spring.

Even with these setbacks, he grew strong enough to treat his family in August to their first vacation together in 10 years and says things are looking up.

"I'm enjoying my life," he said. "Things look great for me."

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