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NJ kidney transplant chain saves dozens of lives

LIVINGSTON, N.J. — It began with one person – an “altruistic donor,” who became the catalyst that triggered a kidney transplant chain that has saved dozens of lives since last October.

Monday evening, donors and recipients got together in one room and with Saint Barnabas Medical Center, celebrated what is now the largest kidney transplant chain at one hospital in the nation.

“I had a lot of people want to donate but kept missing, this program gave me life,” Ted Grabowski said.

When hypertension caused Grabowski’s kidneys to fail, his niece, Lauren Mortenson, offered to donate one of hers but their hopes were crushed when tests determined she wasn’t a match.

That’s when they entered the living donation kidney exchange program at Saint Barnabas.

“It’s amazing because you go out to help one person and this program shows you can help more people just by doing the same thing,” Mortenson said.

This is how the paired exchange program works. If you need a kidney but your loved ones are incompatible, one of them agrees to donate a kidney to someone else they do match with. In exchange, the program finds you a match. Saint Barnabas’ chain is now up to 23 links/matches. 43 patients total.

“Typically, these chains are started when we have an altruistic donor with blood type 0, we can trigger a chain,” said Dr. Stuart R. Geffner, Director of Transplant Surgery at St. Barnabas.

“It’s rare and special when someone presents to us basically I’m a young healthy person, I have two kidneys I know I only need one kidney, I’d like to donate a kidney to someone, I don’t know anyone that needs a kidney, can you at your transplant center find anyone who would benefit from receiving my kidney and that’s the level of altruism and willingness to help another man that’s beyond what many of us are capable of,” Geffner said.

That’s exactly what Bryan Glennon did. Saint Barnabas’ chain began last October with the Caldwell resident. Glennon is considered the altruistic donor.

“He gave to one person that person’s intended donor gave to someone else and it propagates down the line to what is now 23 links,” Dr. Geffner said.

“This was something I felt very strongly about, to me it has enhanced my life,” Glennon said. “Living donation not only benefits the organ recipient, but it benefits the organ donor, my life feels more complete since donation.”

Bryan Glennon decided he wanted to donate a kidney to someone in need and went to St. Barnabas to pair him up with a patient. They matched him with Haley Tsai, whose kidneys were only functioning at five percent.

The two met for the first time today.

“First thing I see him I hug him and say thank you, you save my life,” said a grateful Tsai. “I was crying when they introduced him.”

Hayley and her daughter, Jocelyn are incompatible - so through the program - Haley received Bryan’s kidney and in return, Jocelyn donated one of hers on her mom’s behalf.

“The idea of helping my mom is great but being able to help somebody else is an extra bonus, honestly,” Jocelyn Tsai said. “He gave us a second chance, it’s not easy when someone is sick, it’s hard on family too, this is the healthiest my mom has been in 30 years.”

“There’s tremendous benefit to receiving a living donor kidney, typically the living donor transplant has a better success rate, it lasts longer in the recipient," Dr. Geffner said. “There’s a tremendous shortage of donor organs in this country, it’s an important take home message today,”