For thousands of people around the world waiting for a kidney, paired exchange serves as a beacon of hope. One person’s willingness to undergo the act of Kidney Paired Donation (KPD) often sets in motion a chain of beautiful and selfless acts, where individuals give and receive the chance for a better life. After completing its 100th KPD transplant in a 12 month period, the Penn Transplant Institute now holds the world-wide record for the most KPD transplants in a year.
More than 90,000 people in the United States are waiting to receive a kidney transplant, with average waits to receive a kidney from a deceased donor stretching to between five and eight years. Those on the list must receive regular dialysis to stand in for their failed kidneys, and 4,000 people in the U.S. die each year waiting to receive a transplant.
Coordinated through the National Kidney Registry (NKR), paired exchange helps those in need of a kidney transplant who have a willing but poorly compatible or incompatible living donor – for instance, a friend or a sibling who is not a match to donate to their loved one but is nonetheless motivated to become part of an exchange. In a traditional kidney transplant scenario, that living donor would donate a kidney to their own loved one. However, sometimes the donor and recipient are poorly compatible or not compatible due to genetics. Paired exchange gives them another chance to help both their loved one and others, expanding the pool of potential donors and recipients.
Penn Medicine’s 100th paired kidney exchange surgery over the past 12 months, completed on December 6th, represents a significant milestone not only for Penn Medicine but for the broader transplant community. “This achievement reflects not only our dedication to excellence in patient care but also the innovative spirit that defines Penn Medicine. By embracing the potential of paired exchange, we are providing renewed hope to those in need,” said Amanda Leonberg-Yoo, MD, an assistant professor of Renal-Electrolyte and Hypertension and medical director of the Kidney Living Donor Program. “This milestone wouldn’t be possible without the countless number of people who make the choice to donate a kidney to a loved one, neighbor, or sometimes even complete stranger. Their selfless act of generosity often inspires others to do the same.”
In December of 2022, Penn launched its Center for Living Donation. Based at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, the Center for Living Donation expanded the Penn Transplant Institute’s team of experts, to provide more valuable resources for transplant recipients and donors, like mentors who have gone through the living donation process themselves, who can be a reassuring voice through the transplant journey.
Penn Medicine performed its first kidney transplant in 1966. Since that time, its transplant program has grown into a powerhouse multidisciplinary team of transplant surgeons, nephrologists, nurses, and professionals in fields from social work to pharmacy and nutrition to physical therapy who work tirelessly to orchestrate these intricate exchanges every day. Their commitment to advancing medical science and improving patient outcomes has made Penn Medicine a leader in the field of organ transplantation.
The NKR works to identify and connect compatible, well-matched donor-patient pairs from the largest living donor pool in the world. “Anyone who is involved in paired exchange will understand the magnitude of Penn’s accomplishment in completing a staggering 100 KPD transplants in a 12-month period. This will be like Roger Bannister breaking the 4 minute mile barrier – Penn proved it is possible and now many transplant centers will break the 100 KPD transplant threshold over the next decade, facilitating thousands of additional life-saving living donor kidney transplants.” said Garet Hil, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the National Kidney Registry and a living kidney donor. Those interested in learning more about the living kidney donation process can do so through NKR, or Penn’s Center for Living Donation.