National Kidney Registry Awards Emory Transplant Center Coordinator for Quick Actions

Dr. Nicole Turgeon (left) and Sharon Matthews (right)

Dr. Nicole Turgeon (left) and Sharon Matthews (right)

The National Kidney Registry (NKR) has awarded Sharon Mathews, Lead Coordinator of Emory’s Living Donor Kidney Transplant Program, with its Grace Under Pressure Award. The NKR’s medical board voted for Mathews and a transplant coordinator from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, to receive the Grace Under Pressure Awards for their careful maneuvers and quick actions that led to a series of successful kidney transplants last summer. The NKR presents this award to an individual or organization that goes beyond what is expected and takes extraordinary measures to accelerate the practice of paired donor kidney exchange, resulting in the facilitation of more successful transplants.

The series of events began in July 2015 when a Good Samaritan donor started the chain in Madison, Wisconsin. The donor wanted to altruistically donate her kidney sometime in a five-day window so that she could recover in time for her college classes to start in the fall. The NKR identified a four-way swap that included a 14-year-old kidney transplant candidate at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Doctors accepted the donor’s offer, Emory’s HLA lab completed physical crossmatching and the NKR finalized the swap logistics. All seemed ready to go.

A week before the scheduled surgeries, the paired donor in position 3 of the four-way swap decided against donating. The planned recipient of this kidney was an adult patient at Emory Transplant Center. So the centers quickly identified a “repair” option — the donor in position 2 could step in and donate a kidney to the position 3 candidate. Emory’s HLA lab performed a virtual crossmatch for the candidate. But then a few days before surgery, the candidate’s donor developed an elevated liver enzyme count and was ruled out. The centers identified a second repair option using virtual crossmatching and quickly solved this problem.

“Both of our centers [Emory and UW-Madison] worked hard to save the entire swap through the challenges that unfolded in the last several days before the scheduled transplant,” says Mathews.
Thanks to Mathews and her team’s hard work and the generosity of the altruistic donor in Madison, the swap began as planned, and the patient at Children’s received a living donor kidney. And at the end of the chain, the Emory waitlisted patient received a well-matched transplanted kidney as needed.

Mathews received the award on behalf of her team at the NKR’s Season of Miracles awards gala in New York City on May 4. “I dedicated my award to the entire Emory team that helped make these transplants successful, and I thanked my husband for his support,” says Mathews. “Living donor swaps/exchanges require tremendous coordination and expertise by our HLA lab, transplant surgeons, nephrologists, anesthesiologists, transplant clinic staff, bedside nurses, and O.R. staff. They all made it happen.”

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