As a former pastor, Troy Milford had spent years counseling his congregation through the joys and challenges of their lives. But, as it turns out, he was quietly dealing with a challenge of his own.
In 1997, he was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease. Though he felt well on dialysis, he knew he’d eventually need a kidney transplant. In 2010, he was placed on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. Several of Troy’s family members were tested in hopes of donating their kidney to him, but they were not matches. Troy’s friend and parishioner, Robert Poole was then tested, but he wasn’t a match either. That’s when Robert (pictured right with recipient Troy Milford) learned about the Kidney Paired Donor Exchange Program at Emory University Hospital.
“Emory began its Kidney Paired Donor Exchange Program in 2010, and we have been participating in the National Kidney Registry since 2012,” says Nicole Turgeon, MD, associate professor of surgery, Emory University School of Medicine and surgical director of the Paired Donor Exchange Program. “Paired donor exchange gives patients an opportunity to receive a living donor kidney transplant from a loved one or friend, despite incompatible blood types and positive crossmatches. In paired donation, a donor and recipient are matched with another incompatible donor and recipient pair, and the kidneys are exchanged between the pairs. This was the case with Mr. Poole and Mr. Milford, and the basis of how Chain 221 worked.”
Troy and Robert are now part of the world’s second largest kidney swap in history, and the largest kidney swap to be concluded in less than 40 days. Named “Chain 221” by the National Kidney Registry, the chain involved 56 participants, which facilitated 28 transplants in 19 transplant centers across the country, including the Emory Transplant Center. A Good Samaritan donor, also known as an altruistic donor, initiated Chain 221 in Memphis on April 30, 2013, and the chain ended just five weeks later, on June 5, in Cleveland, Ohio.
Both Troy and Robert underwent surgery on April 30 at Emory University Hospital. That day Troy received his new kidney, while Robert donated his kidney to another person half way across the country, also in need of the new organ. Both men are doing well after their surgeries.
“Words can’t say how it made me feel that Robert, who’s not even related to me, would do this for me,” says kidney recipient Troy. “I am one of 28 people who has a new kidney, and a new outlook on life, thanks to this swap. That’s what God can do. He can work miracles.”
“Troy is a good friend and special person,” says Robert, who manages a golf course in Canton. “He was too proud to ask for help, even when he was sick, so I am really happy I could assist. It didn’t matter to me if I gave to someone I knew or to someone across the country. I was just thrilled to donate on behalf of Troy.”
According to Dr. Turgeon, there are currently more than 100,000 people on the kidney transplant waiting list. The discrepancy between the number of organs available and the number of people on the waiting list continues to grow. “Ultimately we want to bring awareness to living and deceased donation with this story,” Turgeon explains.
Since the Kidney Paired Donor Exchange Program began at Emory, the hospital’s surgeons have performed 27 kidney transplants. The Emory Transplant Center is the state’s largest transplant center performing the highest volume of kidney transplants in Georgia. In 1966, Emory performed the first Georgia kidney transplant. To date, the Emory Transplant Center has performed more than 4,300 kidney transplants, with 247 kidney transplants performed in 2012.
Visit the Emory Kidney Transplant Program website for more information on the Emory Paired Donor Exchange program.