-Doug Dixon of Pleasant Mount was determined to give the gift of life and he did.
He was part of a paired kidney exchange, which helped Charles Ripple of Poyntelle and Joanne Breckenridge of Elizabethtown, Ky.
The paired kidney exchange consists of two kidney donor/recipient pairs whose blood types are not compatible. The two recipients exchange donors so that each recipient can receive a kidney with a compatible blood type.
The Gift of Life Donor Program website, www.donors1.org, said that "once the evaluations of all donors and recipients are completed, the two kidney transplant operations are scheduled to occur simultaneously. In some cases, this type of exchange has involved multiple living kidney donor/transplant candidate pairs."
This is what happened between Dixon and Ripple. They weren't a match, but through the paired kidney exchange Dixon could still help out and Ripple still got a kidney.
"There are three separate churches in our charge," said Dixon. "I met Charles' wife and heard his story. I felt I needed to step up."
He said that he was told of the paired kidney exchange and opted to be part of it. Through the paired kidney exchange, Dixon was matched with Breckenridge and she received his kidney.
"For each person in the system to donate, there is one who will receive a kidney," he said.
Dixon and Ripple were in the system as a pair. When Dixon was matched, Ripple was guaranteed a transplant.
"Both of our surgeries were done at Geisinger Wyoming Valley," said Dixon. "Once Charles' kidney was removed then mine was removed, to make sure he got one."
Ripple received the first international kidney transplant in the history of the country. He was matched with a donor from Greece.
"The paired kidney exchange has been around for the last eight years or so," said Dr. Chintalapati Varma, director of transplant surgery and lead surgeon for Geisinger Wyoming Valley.
He said that Dixon is blood type AB and Ripple is blood type A, which can't be used together.
"If a pair isn't a match then donors can donate to another pair and it can complete a chain," said Varma. "Essentially multiple people can be helped in a chain."
For instance, Dixon's kidney went to Breckenridge in Kentucky while Ripple got his from Greece in the same chain. The kidney for Ripple was harvested in Toledo, Ohio then flown to Geisinger to be put into him.
Varma said that one person can stop a whole chain when matched.
"Chains can go on and on until a match is found," he said. "Some can go on to 15 and 16 pairs."
Page 2 of 3 - Ripple's match from Greece was initially going to donate to her husband, but they didn't match. He got another pair and found a match and he's "doing well." The recipient she would have helped was "too sick" for it to happen.
"She could have said no more but she didn't," said Varma. "She contacted us to help and was put into the database."
The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) are coming together with different pilot studies to see if there could be one national database for the paired kidney exchange.
"There is power in numbers," said Varma. "I hope in a few years this will be a nationwide database. It will be beneficial and will help a lot of people get transplants."
He said that when finding matches, it is "purely blood type and tissue matching."
"There's a cross-match done before we can do the transplant," Varma said. "We take the synapse from the donor and the white cells of the recipient. If it kills the cells we can't put the organ in or the patient could reject it."
He added that the United States is the only country with the paired exchange database.
"We are pushing for one single, useful database that can help get donors faster," Varma stated. "We have to do it on a small scale before we can do it on a national scale. I'm very happy with it. As long as there are good surgeons involved it will keep running smoothly. Just from one person donating it can help 12 people," Varma said.
He said that if this becomes a single, national database, it will be complicated in finding matches, but that it will be beneficial.
"It still takes time," he said. "But through the paired kidney exchange program it usually takes under a year to find a match, depending on the situation. Once a person is in the database, it's checked every two weeks for matches."
Essentially, this program can decrease the wait time of a kidney transplant from years to months.
Varma said there's a lot of testing involved to find a match between blood type, tissue, antibodies and more. He also said they use tissue labs that are "really well known."
"There are usually no mistakes," he said. "We use very powerful medications and antibody preparation. Rejection isn't a big issue and isn't even thought of anymore. Infection is minimal and if there is any, we treat it right away."
Varma is pleased with the program and what it's doing.
"I want to help as many people as I can," he said. "God gave us two kidneys because he knew transplants are needed."
Page 3 of 3 - Geisinger has done a total of four transplants through this program. Two were are Wyoming Valley and two were at the Danville hospital.
Dixon said that he and the Ripples are "very close" and still keep in contact, adding "we became a family."
He said he was back home and doing well within a week.
"I would definitely do it again," Dixon stated. "I feel great about it. Sometimes we need to be the answer to a prayer."
He also said he would be willing to share his story at different churches. He owns a modular home company, Wheeler Hill Developing, in Pleasant Mount. For either of these inquires you can contact Dixon at (570) 448-2324.
In February the Gift of Life Donor Program held a ceremony to honor those who "generously chose to give the gift of life" as a living donor. It was during the annual "Gift of Life…Acts of Love" event and was held at the Sheraton Hershey Harrisburg Hotel in Harrisburg.
Over 100 people attended, including living kidney and partial liver donors and their recipients from this region. Special pins were bestowed for the donors and their recipients to present to one another, "honoring their relationship."
Dixon, Ripple and Breckenridge were among the participants.
For more information visit the Gift of Life Donor Program website at www.donors1.org.