One is a Michigan firefighter who wanted to honor the memory of his son, who died at age 24 in a tragic snowmobile accident. The other is an Air Force technical sergeant from Iowa who specializes in intelligence analysis. Besides their public service and Midwest origins, they have one other thing in common: They each donated a kidney to a complete stranger.
Harry Damon, the firefighter from Grand Rapids, Mich., and Nicole Lanstrum, who was born and raised in rural Iowa, initiated two kidney transplant chains last week at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center that freed at least six kidney patients — four at UCLA and two in San Francisco — from lives on dialysis. And because their generosity helped initiate similar chains at other transplant centers, the lives of many others will be restored.
A "donor chain" creates opportunities for endless donor-recipient pairings. It starts with an altruistic donor — someone who wants to donate a kidney out of the goodness of his or her heart. That kidney is transplanted into a recipient who had a donor willing to give a kidney but whose kidney was not a match. To keep the chain going, the incompatible donor gives a kidney to another patient, unknown to him or her, who has been identified as a match, essentially "paying it forward." A specialized computer program matches donors and recipients across the country.
Because kidneys can remain outside the body for 24 to 48 hours between removal and transplant, these chains enable donors to give kidneys to strangers of various races and ethnicities across the country.