The worlds longest living donor kidney transplant chain, which has just ended at Loyola Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois, USA, was made possible by people who were driven to “pay it forward”.

This chain started when Rick Ruzzamenti, a self-admitted “impulsive” man decided to donate his kidney, after being motivated by a friend who had done the same for a women she knew. After hearing her story, Ruzzamenti was motivated to donate a kidney, and even though he did not know who would end up with his kidney, he donated it anyway.

His donation ended up going to a man whose niece was willing to give him the kidney, however, she was not a compatible match. When her uncle received the kidney from Ruzzamenti, she donated her kidney to someone else who needed one.

Don Terry, who was the last person to receive a kidney in the chain, was told it may take up to 5 years to find a donor, was diagnosed with diabetes-related renal disease during his 40’s. He was living with bloating, burning, and the horrible effects from dialysis for almost a year. Because of Ruzzamenti’s original donation, Terry was able to receive a kidney much faster than he otherwise would have.

Terry said:

“It was like being sentenced to prison.. like I had done something wrong in my life and this was the outcome. This kidney chain has brought me back to life.”

After Ruzzamenti kicked off this chain, 60 operations were allowable because of other willing donors who were planning on giving kidneys to loved ones, but were not compatible. These generous people donated to someone they didn’t know, and in exchange, their loved ones were given a kidney from someone else.

The chain, called Chain 124, by the nonprofit National Kidney Registry, was possible because of massive coordination, and many good Samaritans. It required cutting-edge computer matching, amazing surgical techniques, and outstanding organ shipping.

A transplant surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, a hospital which was not involved in the chain, commented that the chain was a “momentous feat”. He said:

“We are realizing the dream of extending the miracle of transplantation to thousands of additional patients each year.”

Loyola was responsible for 13 chains – 5 of which were started by Loyola employees, who donated their kidneys to people in need.

John Milner, a Loyola transplant surgeon, explained that patients who do not have a family member with a matching kidney can wait up to 10 years for a transplant, but with these donations, patients can receive a live transplant within 6 months.

Milner commented:

“There are people right now today in this city who have willing healthy living donors who don’t match their recipients but don’t know about this program.”

Terry, the final recipient of this long lasting chain, commented:

“I’m here because I want to see more people (getting transplants). There are 100,000 people dying before you. Please make sure there isn’t one more who has to.”

The chains have consisted of parents donating to children, children donating to parents, sisters and brothers donating to each other and even people donating to their ex’s for the sake of their children.

Prior to this chain, the longest was 23 transplants in 2010, by the National Kidney Registry. Dr. Milner concluded

“This is the best way for patients with incompatible donors to be transplanted quickly with the best results.

This chain ends, but another one begins.”

Written By Christine Kearney