Cleveland Clinic Has Performed Their First Three-Way Kidney Transplant

Cleveland Clinic’s first every three-way kidney transplant has taken place. It involved six people in total: three donors and three recipients. The full article can be read here, at the Cleveland Clinic website.

Why the Three-Way Kidney Transplant Happened

The three-way kidney transplant took place because three people who were each in need of a kidney all had a willing donor. However, in all three cases, the recipient’s friend or spouse who wanted to donate wasn’t a match for them.

To get around this problem, the three couples were matched up so that the donor from one couple could give their kidney to the recipient of a second couple. The donor of the second couple then, in turn, gave their kidney to the recipient of the third couple, and the donor from the third couple completed the circle by donating to the recipient of the first couple*. By donating a kidney to another couple, each donor helped to ensure that their friend or spouse who they originally had wanted to donate to would receive a kidney. Dr Wee form the Renal Transplantation Program at the Cleveland Clinic says,

“Just because you’re not a match with someone, doesn’t mean you can’t help them.”

The original article has a handy chart that shows how this works.

About Kidney Paired Donation

Two-way kidney donations are fairly common, but the logistical difficulties involved in the matching process mean that three-way transplants rarely happen. However, kidney paired donation (donating to a stranger to receive a better-matched kidney for a friend or relative) is becoming increasingly used. It was first performed in 1991 in South Korea but is now performed around the world. Recently, in 2015, a kidney transplant involving six couples took place in California.

One Patient’s Experience

One woman who took part in the Cleveland Clinic’s three-way transfer is a grandmother from Ohio called Nancy, who has polycystic kidney disease. Her condition recently deteriorated, and she was told that she would either need to undergo a transplant or have regular dialysis.

After researching her options, she and her husband Gregg (who she married nine days before her surgery!) decided to use the National Kidney Registry, an organisation that matches donors and recipients for paired kidney exchanges. The three-way swap was organised, and, after it took place, Gregg joked that they spent their honeymoon in the hospital. Nancy says of Gregg,

“He gave me the biggest gift anyone could ever give you and I owe my life to him.”

According to the Cleveland Clinic, all the operations went as planned and the recovery process is going well so far.

*At the time of the surgery, one of the recipients wasn’t medically ready to receive the transplant, and so one kidney was donated to someone outside of the original group. The recipient who was unable to receive the transplant has been placed onto an advanced donation program so that they can receive a kidney when ready.”


Anna Hewitt

Anna Hewitt

Anna is from Cambridge, England and recently finished her undergraduate degree, where she specialised in Biological Anthropology. She has an interest in medicine and enjoys writing. In her spare time she likes to cook, hike, and hang out with cats.

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