SOURCE: Northwell Health

North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System

April 22, 2016 09:03 ET

Six People in Three-Way Kidney Chain Meet for the First Time

MANHASSET, NY--(Marketwired - April 22, 2016) - Amidst laughter, tears, smiles and hugs, six people who will be forever connected through kidney transplantation met Thursday for the first time at North Shore University Hospital, part of Northwell Health.

Ernesto Molmenti, MD, surgical director of the North Shore University Hospital Transplant Center, introduced the six to one another as they came together to participate in the hospital's "Donate Life" celebration. "Here we have six people… six heroes… who show us that it's possible to make a difference in the lives of people we've never met. We all have the power to make positive changes -- if we have the strength and courage," he said.

The story of the three-way chain began with Nicole Johnson, 35, of Brooklyn, NY, who had high blood pressure for many years and was told in 2014 that she was living with acute kidney failure. Her aunt, Dawn Bates, 49, of Deer Park, NY, was one of Ms. Johnson's loved ones who offered to help; however, the blood types of the two women were incompatible. A kidney exchange was arranged to allow Ms. Johnson to be transplanted with another donor. Sadly, this exchange didn't work out.

Several months later, Ms. Bates came to the Transplant Center to speak with the nurse coordinator. She felt that she could help Ms. Johnson by donating her own kidney to someone who needed it, believing that this act of kindness would generate good karma. Even though the doctors informed Ms. Bates that such altruism might not lead to a transplant for Ms. Johnson, she insisted on going ahead. "It was an opportunity for me to do something good," said Ms. Bates. "I found it very fulfilling to do something outside of myself."

Thus began the chain. In the meantime, Tiffany Tung, 34, a Westbury, NY paralegal with a busy career, was awaiting a kidney transplant from her husband, Terry Fung Ching, 31. Tiffany and Terry were blood-type compatible but time was not on their side. While very willing to help his wife, Mr. Ching needed a number of additional tests to make sure he would be healthy enough to donate. Ms. Bates had completed her kidney work-up for donation, and it turned out, she was blood-type compatible with Ms. Tung and the donation was made.

Back at work, Ms. Tung said she was happy that her life "has gone back to normal" but was also "thrown for a loop" when she heard the full story of how the chain would continue.

As it turned out, another blood-type incompatible pair, Elaine Richards, 59, of Uniondale, NY, and her daughter-in-law Catherine Richards, 34, of Hempstead, NY, were also listed at the North Shore University Hospital Transplant Center. Elaine, a nurse of many years, was on dialysis, having been diagnosed with polycystic kidneys in 2012. Catherine, wanted to donate her kidney, but was incompatible. The Transplant Center soon determined that Catherine Richards was compatible with Ms. Johnson, and Mr. Ching was compatible with Elaine Richards. In an act of great compassion, Ms. Tung and Mr. Ching agreed to break their compatibility, thereby allowing Ms. Johnson and Elaine Richards to be transplanted.

The three-way chain looked as follows:

Dawn Bates, who began the process, donated to Tiffany Tung in October, 2015.

Terry Fung Ching(Tiffany's husband) donated to Elaine Richards on December 23, 2015

Catherine Richards (Elaine's Richard's daughter-in-law) donated to Nicole Johnson in February 2016.

Noting that all of the three donors were educators, Nicole Ali, MD, medical director of the transplant center, said that this very unusual chain "demonstrated how love and generosity can overcome the many obstacles that can occur in the transplantation process."

When asked if they intended to stay in touch, all six donors and recipients nodded in unison. They all agreed that theirs was a chain that would remain unbroken.

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