Innovative program links kidney donors and recipients

June 7, 2012 7:02:59 PM PDT
A software program developed in the Bay Area is having a dramatic impact on kidney transplants by pairing donors with recipients. Dozens of lives have been saved so far have been saved.

When Christina Abeyta needed a kidney, her husband Gilbert volunteered to donate one of his.

"We were hoping and wishing he were compatible but he wasn't," Christina said.

They then went to Plan B -- joining the pair-donation program at California Pacific Medical Center. Gilbert was asked to still donate his kidney, but to someone else, Bonnie Morrissey, a complete stranger. By doing that, his wife was then owed a kidney.

"Because he donated, even though he was not compatible, it guaranteed for me to get my kidney because he is donating," Christina said.

She did eventually get a kidney, from Diane Cooling. That chain reaction saved more than just one life.

"Two lives; not only my wife's, but someone I didn't know too," Gilbert Abeyta said.

A four-way transplant was done on the same day, May 18. Thursday, the four donors and four recipients whose lives are now intertwined were introduced at the CPMC.

The man who developed the computer program, called Match-maker, is David Jacobs. In December 2004, he received a kidney transplant. He then came up with a way to help connect compatible strangers from a pool of thousands.

So far the program is being used only at CPMC. But Jacobs says three new medical centers will join in the next few weeks.

The software now runs on a cloud computing platform -- quickly matching people from pools of patients and donors.

"So the algorithm is designed to do this math in minutes, not hours, weeks or months," Jacobs said.

"In the old days, those recipients would sit on a kidney transplant waiting list and sometime upwards of five or ten years before we could find a transplant for them," Dr. Steven Katznelson said.

Today thanks to the program, the waiting time is shortened by several years.

Christina and Gilbert Abeyta are from Santa Rosa. The others are not from the Bay Area. The idea is that the program will eventually spread to other states.


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