Young Mother, Beloved Father Share Special Bond Following Paired Kidney Transplant

Northwestern Medicine
Organ Donation and Transplantation January 16, 2012
One of the things I love most about my job is that I have the opportunity to meet amazing patients with inspirational stories. A specific topic that I cover is transplant, where the stories of lives are transformed by the miracle of organ donation. It is the ultimate act of kindness and I continue to be amazed by with the stories that unfold within the transplant program here at Northwestern Memorial. Recently, I was able to witness two families meeting for the first time after they were a part of a kidney transplant exchange that saved a young mother and beloved father. It was an emotional experience and not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about both of these families. Read on and I’m sure you’ll be inspired as well…

When 27-year-old Nina Sanchez was 13 weeks pregnant, doctors gave her the devastating news that she had kidney failure. At a time when most mothers are eagerly awaiting the journey of pregnancy, Sanchez was grappling with a distressing diagnosis. Her new priority was now, not only her own health, but keeping her baby alive and healthy. During her seventh month of pregnancy, she went on dialysis. Shortly thereafter, she delivered a, thankfully, healthy baby girl, although six weeks early.

Following her daughter’s safe arrival, transplant specialists at Northwestern Medicine® determined Sanchez would need a kidney transplant or face dialysis for the rest of her life, so the search for a living-donor match began. Sanchez’s brother, Sam Vega, was tested and found to be an incompatible donor. Just when it seemed she would never get the transplant she so desperately needed, Sanchez received a call from Northwestern’s transplant program with news that a match had been identified through what’s known as a paired exchange transplant, which matches one incompatible donor-recipient pair to another enabling an organ exchange.

According to Juan Carlos Caicedo, MD, director of the Hispanic transplant program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, patients are often able to find a willing donor, but approximately one-third of the living donors are not a match for the loved ones they wish to donate to. Paired exchanges are becoming more common and give more patients the opportunity to find a compatible donor.

Unbeknownst to them at the time, Sanchez and her brother were matched to a father-daughter twosome. Like Sanchez, Lino Martinez, a 69-year-old father of seven, suffered from kidney failure. His daughter, Maria Ortega, had agreed to be his donor, but wasn’t compatible. When doctors suggested they participate in a paired exchange, Ortega said the choice was easy. “I would do anything for my father,” she said. “It was a small thing I could do to give him a second chance at life.”

Martinez received Vega’s kidney and Ortega donated to Sanchez. Following their much-awaited transplants, the two families say they have forged a bond that will last forever.