In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

July 7, 2016

Good Samaritan Donor Kicks Off a Kidney Donation ‘Chain Reaction’

By In the Loop

An organ donation chain started with living donor, Jennifer Tamol. Jennifer Tamol is part of a trend. A trend Martin Mai, M.D., a nephrologist at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus and chair of Mayo's Division of Transplant Medicine, would very much like to see grow. Four years ago, Jennifer decided she wanted to donate one of her kidneys. What makes her decision so unique, the Florida-Times Union reports, is that she didn't actually know anyone who needed a kidney. That made her a "non-directed altruistic donor," which, according to Jennifer, initially confused those around her. "Half the people think I'm completely crazy," she tells the paper. "They may be right."

Or, as the paper reports, it may be that Jennifer just wants to help others in one of the most generous and humanitarian ways possible. "I mean, obviously I like being able to help somebody," she says. "I have something that I don't strictly need, so to give somebody their life back ..."

That's a way of thinking that Dr. Mai hopes to see spread. Known as "Good Samaritans," living donors like Jennifer, Dr. Mai tells the Times-Union, represent "fewer than 1 in 10" of all kidney donors at Mayo Clinic. And while that number has grown, it's still relatively small nationally, "making up just 4 percent of all living kidney transplants last year."

The impact living donors can have on those waiting for a transplant can be not only life-saving, but far-reaching. "By donating their kidney to whomever needs it," the paper reports, "they can start off a chain reaction that goes far beyond the original recipient." In an organ donation chain, a donor gives to a stranger who also has a willing but incompatible donor who then gives to another stranger, and so on.

That's exactly what Jennifer did when she reported to Mayo Clinic's Florida campus in the wee hours of May 23. The Times-Union reports that the organ donation chain "stretched to nine people and to Mayo locations in Jacksonville, Rochester and Phoenix." Meaning, of course, that all told, "her decision affected nine people," Dr. Mai tells the paper.

And although it will be a few months before Jennifer could find out who benefitted from her donation ("provided the recipient wants to be known"), Dr. Mai tells the paper there's one thing he knows — and that Jennifer should also know — right now. "There's no doubt," he says. "Jennifer's a hero."

You can read more of Jennifer's story here. Afterward, you can donate a comment or two to us below. Atop this page, you'll find social media tools to share this story with others.

Tags: Dr. Martin Mai, Kidney transplant, Patient Stories

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