ETNA GREEN — A Kosciusko County man wants to donate a kidney to a woman in Pennsylvania. The two had scheduled lifesaving transplant surgery in a Philadelphia hospital last week, but at the last minute the team of transplant surgeons backed out, saying the two had become "too close."
Bob Randall and Dolly Carew met about eight months ago through a website called matchingdonors.com. They've met face-to-face only once, but the Philadelphia hospital that had agreed to perform the transplant said the "close relationship" between the two was a problem.
Last week, surgeons pulled the plug.
It's frustrating for Randall, who has signs of his donations inside his hardware store in rural Marshall County. He's donated blood about 130 times.
"I got a speeding ticket when I was 18 or 19 years old,” Randall said. “When the policeman wrote me the ticket, he hands it to me and says, 'Well, you can go downtown and pay the ticket, or you can go donate blood.' I said I'm going to go donate blood, because I don't have 80 bucks to pay a ticket!"
It became the start of a lifelong calling. He now gives every eight weeks, and recently added platelet donation to his long list of accomplishments.
Some might ask why. For Randall, there's a very simple answer.
"It's nothing for the donor, but the benefits for the person getting it... you just saved someone's life. And that's pretty powerful to me," he said.
So powerful, Randall wanted to expand on the feeling. He went online and found matchingdonors.com which, for a fee, pairs up patients in need of a transplant with willing, healthy donors.
After talking with his wife, Randall signed up.
"There's anywhere from 500-800 patients signed up, but I just checked today and they're pushing 8,100 donors," he said.
After a few weeks of research, Randall found Carew, a single mother in suburban Philadelphia on dialysis, in desperate need of a kidney.
"I lost the majority of my hair,” Carew said. “I've been losing it since 2006. My circulation is very poor. My bones are getting brittle. The machine just takes a lot out of me."
The dialysis had gotten so bad that she began praying for it all to end.
"I told my sister I don't think I have in me the faith. She said, 'Yes, you do. Someone out there is going to help you.’"
That someone was Randall.
The two talked on the phone and agreed to meet in Philadelphia, where they began initial testing.
Randall was a perfect match.
A few months later, they were ready to seal the deal.
"She's a real friend now, and I want to save my friend's life," Randall said.
But just two days before Randall and his wife were due to leave for Philadelphia, they got a surprise phone call from Albert Einstein Medical Center, where the surgery was to be performed.
"Suddenly it was, we're just going to cancel it," Randall said.
In a letter, Einstein's transplant director cited, "Literature in the transplant field that shows participants in paid-for Internet solicitation processes can be particularly vulnerable."
Click here to read the letter Albert Einstein Medical Center faxed to Bob Randall.
Concerned for Carew's well-being, it said, Einstein disqualified Randall as her donor.
It's a scenario that's becoming increasingly common, with more than 100,000 patients now waiting for their number to be called on the national donor registry.
"The wait can be very long, two to four years. Some people think it's unfair... sort of like getting in front of the line," said Dr. Steven Gable, vice president, Medical Quality Improvement at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Mishawaka.
Gable says most surgeons will still perform "Internet-arranged" transplants, save one scenario.
"That they felt that somehow a person was being coerced into doing something they wouldn't otherwise have done," he said.
Einstein's letter doesn't suggest that. What it does cite is "additional concern" that the two had developed a "very close relationship."
It's a puzzling reason for Randall, who says he and Carew only met face to face once.
"A very close relationship would be a good reason to do it!" Randall said.
Einstein wouldn't comment about the cancellation for this story, but did release a statement saying, in part, that it wanted to perform the transplant through a "paired" donation process, where Carew would get a kidney from someone else, and Randall's kidney would go to a third party he'd never met.
They refused that option, preferring to keep their donation "single."
Click here to read the full statement from Albert Einstein Medical Center concerning the rejection of Randall as Carew's donor.
The hospital's statement also says there was an even bigger problem.
"As we continued the evaluation process, Einstein had reason to believe that Mr. Randall lied during the evaluation process," it reads. "That precluded him from being her kidney donor."
Einstein spokesperson Heather Newcomb wouldn't comment on what Randall may have lied about, citing patient confidentiality laws. Randall says everything he provided was truthful.
Carew says she has a theory why the hospital didn't proceed.
"It was for ethical reasons, that I paid Bob," she said.
When asked if any money changed hands, both Carew and Randall responded no.
Even if that's the suspicion, Carew says there's something that doesn't add up. Einstein didn't disqualify Randall as a donor, just as her donor.
"If Bob lied, then why would you want him to pair with other people? It doesn't make sense," Carew said.
For now, the potential pair has no answers and little time.
"It has made me more determined than ever to get this done," Randall said.
Carew tried another Philadelphia hospital last week, but was also denied. The reason? A previous "Internet connection" transplant in 2007 had resulted in "controversy."
The pair has found a hospital in Denver willing to perform the transplant, but Carew doesn't have the money to make it happen so far from home.
For now, the waiting and hoping continues.