MINNEAPOLIS – After a journey spanning almost a year, a Jerusalem teenager has a new beginning after receiving a lifesaving kidney transplant at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital.
Sara, 15, has a rare kidney disease called FSGS that requires a living donor, and few people are a match in Israel.
She had her first kidney transplant in the United States at the age of three, but last year her kidney began failing again. Antibodies that built up from the first transplant made it even more difficult to find another match.
Last May, her family came to Amplatz from Jerusalem with a stranger who agreed to donate his kidney, but after further tests, doctors determined he wasn't a perfect match. The family was stranded in Minnesota with few options and hope seemed distant.
"For me, it was difficult every time it didn't happen. It was so difficult for me to tell them we had to cancel again and again," said Marie Cook, a nurse practitioner at Amplatz Children's Hospital, who coordinated the transplant for the family. "I was with her in the waiting room when the doctor told her it was over. It was amazing."
"I prayed all the time and it happened. Finally," said Sara. "I want to thank everybody that did a very good job. They saved my life."
After four separate failed transplant attempts, on Dec. 11, Sara benefited from an option known as paired donation. The Alliance for Paired Donation in Ohio created a match between two families in need of kidneys. It began with Sara's uncle who was willing to help.
"There was a couple where the wife needed a kidney transplant. Her husband can't give because he doesn't match. So he matched to me, and my uncle matched to his wife," said Sara.
With four simultaneous surgeries earlier this month, two in Minnesota and twin in Michigan, doctors saved two lives.
"It was a tough journey, but the truth is at the university, we will go any length and distance -- any level -- to make them better," said Dr. Srinath Chinnakotla, a pediatric transplant surgeon at Amplatz who performed Sara's transplant. "The fact they came all the way from Israel to the university speaks to the capability of the university in handling complex cases."
The path of paired donation spanned many months and miles, but with great gratitude, Sara's journey now begins.
"Thank you very much to the hospital and for the whole team, the doctors. They are very, very good," said her mother, Dassi. "I hope she will have a normal life."
Alliance for Prepared Donation works with 80 transplant centers in the US and says live donation will decrease a long waiting list for kidneys. An estimated 97,000 people are waiting for a kidney transplant in the US, with 17,000 people transplanted a year and 6,000 people benefiting from a live donor. The average life expectancy on dialysis is five years.
The University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital transplant center has performed 18 paired donation exchanges in total, seven of them in 2013 alone.