First Paired Kidney Exchange
The Renal and Pancreas Transplant Program at Saint Barnabas Medical performed the state’s first paired kidney exchange and one of the first such exchanges in the country. The match was made possible by the New Jersey Paired Exchange Program (NJ PEP), a living donor kidney exchange registry with patients from five New Jersey transplant programs, which is maintained by the NJ Sharing Network.
On December 28, 2005, transplant surgeons Stuart R. Geffner, M.D., Director of Transplant Surgery for Saint Barnabas Health Care System, H. Stephen Fletcher, M.D. and Marc Uknis, M.D. performed the groundbreaking procedure, which required a team effort and four operating rooms.
NJ PEP was initiated to increase the ability of potential kidney transplant recipients to receive kidney donations from living donors. A paired kidney exchange program helps patients get a kidney when they have a willing, designated donor whose blood type is incompatible to their own. In a paired kidney exchange, a kidney from such a donor is matched and transplanted into the recipient of a second donor-patient pair, and vice versa. The NJ Sharing Network coordinates the procedures so both donations and transplants occur simultaneously.
Gary Cerreto, age 24 of Bellville, was one of the kidney transplant recipients. He received a kidney transplant and, through the NJ PEP, Mr. Cerreto’s mother, Janet Olivieri, age 44 of Nutley, was able to donate a kidney to her son indirectly. The other recipient was Anthony Stoia, age 56, of Bloomfield, who was given Mrs. Olivieri’s organ. Mr. Stoia’s wife, Christie Stoia, age 52, and also of Bloomfield, donated a kidney for her husband, which was given to Mr. Cerreto.
“This kind of paired exchange does not happen very often in the U.S. or in the world –– it is an awesome event,” says Shamkant Mulgaonkar, M.D. Chief, Renal and Pancreas Transplant Division, Saint Barnabas Health Care System “Our goal is to find a kidney for someone and when we can’t, it always troubles us. There is a tremendous organ shortage and paired exchange offers the ability for us to find organs for three percent of patients on the waiting list, yielding about 1,500 additional transplants.”
Dr. Mulgankar adds that he is honored to have met the two families, especially the organ donors, who he calls, “angels on this earth.”
Paired organ exchanges shorten waiting times and provide kidneys from live donors, which are preferred because they improve patient outcomes. More than 65,875 people are waiting for kidney transplants in this country, according to The United Network for Organ Sharing.
The Stoia Family
After determining that she was not a match for her husband, Mrs. Stoia was frustrated that she could not make a kidney donation to relieve his ill health, a result of kidney damage from high blood pressure. When Ms. Stoia heard that Saint Barnabas participated in a paired exchange program where her donation could result in a kidney for her husband, she was thrilled.
“I told our sons that I was going to give them back their father the way they remembered him,” says Mrs. Stoia. “He is all I have known for 32 years and I would do anything for him, and for our sons.”
With the procedure scheduled on December 28, the extended family came together on Christmas Eve for a joyous gathering. Mrs. Stoia made her traditional meal of several different fish dishes and looked forward to the day when her husband would not have such a restrictive diet.
The couple relates that the exchange has been a complete success and Christie says her husband “looks younger and is smiling again.” Both have fully recovered.
“It is like hitting the lottery,” says Mr. Stoia. “It doesn’t have to be about money; it’s about life. I’ve won the life lottery.”
The Stoia family was thrilled to meet the donor/ recipient pair whose lives have also been changed for the better by the exchange. They lovingly joke that Mr. Stoia’s newfound love of pancakes and sweets might stem from his transplant.
The Cerreto/Olivieri Family
“Who would ever have thought I could donate a kidney to my son this way,” says Mrs. Olivieri. “I’ve cried a lot of happy tears… for me this is a celebration of life,” she reflects.
In the midst of final preparations for the transplant, Mr. Cerreto and his family were unphased about making history as one of the first such transplants in the country. “We are just excited about getting a kidney for Gary,” says Ms. Olivieri, who had watched her son’s life become increasingly limited by renal disease. When the NJ PEP was introduced to her by the transplant team at SBMC nearly a year ago, she says she jumped at the opportunity. “It is all about having more choices for people who need a transplant,” she reflects.
For Mr. Cerreto, the transplant represented a gateway to a new life. Serious and reserved during the final week before surgery, he was hesitant to express excitement. He was focused on learning how he could take the best possible care of the new kidney.
“I want it to last for at least 25 years,” he said, referring to the average maximum life of a transplanted kidney. During four years of dialysis Mr. Cerreto had grown more concerned about the long-term side effects of dialysis on his body and the damage it causes to cardiac, circulatory and other major organ systems. Due to his fragile health, Mr. Cerreto has not been able to work. “Ultimately, I want to get a job and start living a normal life,” he said.
To contact the NJ PEP, please call 1-800-SHARE-NJ.
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