BALTIMORE – For Edward Behn it was the death of a close friend, who had been his roommate and the best man at his wedding, that got him thinking about donating one of his kidneys.
Emmet Davitt saw it as an opportunity to do something nice for the young son of family friends after being blessed with good health for himself and his family.
Stacey Lichtman said it was hard to see her husband Carl go from being active — he played tennis and biked — to being sidelined by kidney disease.
Behn had no particular person in mind when he decided to donate. Davitt and Lichtman did, but neither of them could give to their intended recipients because they were not matches.
Via a four-way kidney exchange performed by surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore last week, everyone got their wish.
A kidney exchange works by matching the kidneys of donors whose intended recipients aren’t matches, with other patients who have willing donors but who also aren’t matches.
In this particular case, Behn, 59, of Westborough, Mass., initiated the exchange by offering to be what’s known as a “non-directed donor.” That is, he was willing to donate one of his kidneys to whoever needed it.
Behn’s kidney was found to be a match for a Maryland man, who wanted to remain anonymous.
The Maryland man knew a woman who was willing to give him one of her kidneys but couldn’t because she wasn’t a match for him.
Instead, the kidney donated by the Maryland woman, who also wished to stay anonymous, went to 10-year-old Sean Menard of Catonsville.
Davitt, 50, the deputy general counsel for the Maryland Public Service Commission, was to have been Sean’s donor but was not a match. His kidney went to Stacey Lichtman’s husband, Carl Lichtman, 64.
And Stacey, 60, who wasn’t a match for her husband, both of Lake Worth, Fla., donated a kidney that went to a man from Virginia Beach, Bob Loudermilk, 74.
All four transplants were performed on Monday and Tuesday of last week. The eight-person exchange required intricate coordination, including ensuring each family waited in separate rooms to help protect their privacy and anonymity, according to the hospital.
Surgeons employed a relatively new procedure when they removed the healthy kidneys from each donor, extracting the organ through the belly button. The procedure requires only a tiny incision and “most of our donors wake up with a single Band-Aid on their belly button,” said Dr. Matthew Cooper, director of kidney transplantation.
The University of Maryland started performing the belly-button procedure in April, and is one of only three medical centers in the country that do it, said Cooper. It’s also the first time the procedure has been used in a kidney exchange, according to the hospital.
Sean’s kidneys were in failure due to a congenital abnormality, according to the hospital. His parents, Jeannie and Michael Menard, expressed their gratitude at a press conference Tuesday morning while their son continued to recover in the pediatric intensive care unit.
Growing weaker prior to the transplant, he was only able to spend about 10 minutes outside each day. But now her son will get to be a normal boy, Jeannie Menard said.
“I feel Emmet (Davitt) gave him life, even though it wasn’t his kidney,” she said.
Davitt doesn’t think what he did was a “great heroic deed,” but rather views it as an opportunity. He’s looking forward to seeing Sean out running around.
Carl Lichtman previously sought a kidney transplant at a hospital in Florida where he said he was told the wait would be two to three years. That would have been a cadaver kidney, which isn’t as favorable as one from a live donor.
“I’m very grateful for it,” said Lichtman of his transplant.
Loudermilk spent two-and-a-half years on dialysis and said he had previously been told he wasn’t a candidate for a transplant because of other medical issues. At Tuesday’s press conference he spoke of the other people at the dialysis center he went to who are still waiting for transplants.
“Dialysis is not the way to go,” said Loudermilk, who added that after beginning dialysis, patients have only 40 percent of the lifestyle they used to have. Loudermilk’s son-in-law is planning to donate his kidney to a still-undetermined recipient which will continue the chain of donation, according to the hospital.
Behn, who was walking around a mere 12 hours after having one of his kidneys removed, insisted that he’s nobody special.
“It’s just a good thing to do,” he said.