LOUISVILLE — An Elizabethtown couple is participating in an organ-swap program that eventually will benefit six people and will reach halfway around the world, to Greece.
JoAnn Breckenridge received a new kidney from a stranger in April and her husband William donated one in May, taking part in a rare international exchange that could save more lives. By the time the string plays out, a total of six organs will have been donated.
The Courier-Journal in Louisville reported that when the couple underwent surgeries at Jewish Hospital, they took part in one of America's first international paired kidney donations.
Louisville surgeons Michael Marvin and Mary Eng were hailed by Greek Ambassador Vassilis Kaskarelis on Friday at the Greek Embassy in Washington, D.C., for their part in the donor exchange.
As part of the swap, a man in Greece received a kidney from an Oklahoma woman, and the Greek man's wife donated a kidney to a man in Pennsylvania.
The ill turn to paired kidney donation when a donor's organ is incompatible with the designated recipient. The donor then promises to donate a kidney to a stranger to enable the designated recipient to get a compatible organ from another stranger.
The remaining transplants in the chain will take place shortly in Atlanta and Denver.
Marvin and Eng praised the patients and said they were honored to help them. Marvin is director of transplantation at Jewish and associate professor of surgery at the University of Louisville, and Eng is a kidney/liver/ pancreas transplant surgeon with The Transplant Center at Jewish and an assistant professor of surgery at U of L.
"It only takes one caring individual to start the chain that can save so many lives," Marvin said. "We are grateful to the generosity of each donor that was part of this paired donation."
JoAnn Breckenridge, 57, suffered from high blood pressure for decades and was on dialysis before getting a new right kidney April 19. Her husband and other relatives had hoped to donate a kidney to Breckenridge, but none matched.
Paired donations have been happening in the United States for more than a decade, but enlarging the donor pool to other nations will help many more people in need.
"My wife got her kidney. That's the main thing," said William Breckenridge, who, with JoAnn, has two grown sons. "It all worked out."