Loyola Medical's kidney donation plan really pays off
ACTS OF KINDNESS | Donors lining up at Loyola Medical
It takes a special kind of person to donate a kidney to a complete stranger, no strings attached.
It's even more remarkable when 21 people sign up to be altruistic kidney donors at a single transplant center in just two months.
That's what happened at Loyola University Medical Center after the Maywood hospital launched its "Pay-It-Forward" kidney donation program in March.
The program uses the nonprofit National Kidney Registry to try to turn a single altruistic donation into a "chain" of multiple kidney transplants nationwide.
When a good samaritan steps forward, they're matched with a recipient who may have a relative or friend willing to donate a kidney, but can't for medical reasons. That relative then agrees to donate to someone else who has a willing donor in the same situation, allowing more transplants to occur.
Loyola has gotten calls from about 50 would-be donors since holding a March press conference with the four good samaritans who facilitated the "Pay-It-Forward" program's first transplants, hospital officials say.
Of the people who expressed interest, 21 have begun physical and psychological testing to determine if they qualify as organ donors.
A kidney from each one of these people could make it possible for 126 or more kidney transplants to occur, said Dr. John Milner, of Loyola's living donor kidney transplant program.
Milner called the outpouring of generosity in the last two months "amazing" and unexpected, considering that fewer than 150 of the living-donor kidney transplants performed last year in the United States involved an altruistic donor.
"I give [the first four donors] a lot of credit," Milner said. "Their stories really resonated with the people coming forward."
Bonnie Bratek of Loves Park, near Rockford, said she decided to donate a kidney "blindly" to a stranger after watching a TV program on a kidney swap a few months ago. After doing research, she learned about the Loyola program.
"When I found out you could live with one kidney, I thought, 'Why don't more people do this?' " the 49-year-old said. "Something in me just wanted to help and give."
Bratek, who hasn't been matched with a recipient, said the chance to be a catalyst for not one, but several, organ transplants through the National Kidney Registry just made the decision easier.
"Obviously, if you're giving up an organ, you want it to help as many people as you can," she said. "My hope is to save more than one life."