A Wausau woman is the last link in a 68-person kidney transplant chain of donations that started in Minnesota, spread across the country and ended at the University of Wisconsin in late March.
After living with renal insufficiency for 30 years, 77-year-old Mitzi Neyens' condition had begun to worsen in the past two years, she told Press-Gazette Media. She was able to take part in the massive organ donation chain after De Pere school teacher Megan O'Leary donated a kidney to a matched recipient in exchange for a matched kidney for Neyens, her long-time family friend.
"I was more anxious to get disqualified and not be able to donate," O'Leary said about the donation process. "Most people say it seems like it would be hard, but to me it wasn't, it just kind of felt like the right thing to do. I wasn't nervous about it at all."
The chain began in Minnesota with a woman who wanted to donate a kidney to no one in particular. Thus began the process of coordinating 34 kidney exchanges.
"It's unheard of," said Karen Miller, the paired kidney exchange coordinator for the University of Wisconsin transplant program. "It's very, very difficult. So many things can happen during that process: a donor gets sick; a donor backs out; a recipient gets sick; somebody dies."
The National Kidney Registry, which uses a computer to link organ donation chains, and 26 hospitals nationwide helped coordinate the kidney exchanges involving 68 people.
"It's always amazing when transplants occur," Miller said. "Was I surprised? No. As you get into paired kidney exchange I always hope for the very best and want every paired kidney exchange, every match, to proceed. That's honestly unrealistic, that's never going to happen."
More than 2,500 Wisconsin residents are among the estimated 123,000 Americans in need of an organ transplant.
About 2.6 million people are registered donors in Wisconsin, and about 2 million more are eligible, according to advocates.