Like most daughters, Tasha Tucker would do anything for her mother, Gloria Jones. In Tucker's case, she was going to give her mother, suffering with end-stage renal failure, one of her kidneys.
However, when nurses in the YNHH Transplantation Center did the final cross-match the week before scheduled surgeries on Jones and Tucker, the results were not what they expected.
The initial cross-match indicated that the mother and daughter were compatible for the transplant of Tucker's kidney into her mother, but the final test indicated that they were not. Tucker, a 14-year veteran of Yale-New Haven Hospital, is a systems analyst in Human Resources Information Systems. Her mother, Gloria Jones, is an administrative assistant in the Yale orthopedics clinic.
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"I met with the doctors and nurses before the surgery and was entirely comfortable with the process," said Tucker. "They gave my mother and me confidence before the surgery."
"Our work-up is thorough and designed to ensure the best outcomes for the donor and the recipient," explained Joyce Albert, RN, senior transplant coordinator, Transplantation Center.
"When we saw that they were not entirely matched, we had to call off the surgery and go into the national computerized data bank."
What they discovered surprised the surgeons and nurses of the Transplantation Center. They found Jason Belinski, 41, in Shelton who desperately needed a kidney. His mother, Heather Meyernick, who lives in Nashville, TN, wanted to give him one of her kidneys but she, like Jones, was not a match for her own child. But what the data revealed was that Heather Meyernick's kidneys were a perfect match for Jones and even more incredibly —Tucker's kidney was a perfect match for Meyernick's son, Jason Belinski!
With time of the essence for both Jones and Belinski, the team immediately started to make arrangements for what is called an "exchange" or "swap" of matching organs among patients who are not family members. In October, YNHH Transplantation Center surgeons had successfully performed the hospital's first kidney swap surgeries and were fully prepared to do this swap as well.
On January 31, over the course of four-and-a-half hours, the four surgeries took place and were documented by Jocelyn Maminta, health/medical correspondent, WTNH News 8. A week later, News 8 filmed the donors and recipients as they met for the first time and discussed the remarkable way in which their lives are now vitally connected. On Valentine's Day, Channel 8 aired the incredible story.
The four surgeons who participated in the two-family/two-kidney surgery were: Sanjay Kulkarni, MD, who removed Heather Meyernick's kidney; Peter Schulam, MD, chief, Department of Urology, removed Tasha Tucker's kidney; Peter Yoo, MD, who transplanted Tucker's kidney into Jason Belinski; and Manuel Rodriguez-Davalos, MD, who transplanted Heather Meyernick's kidney into Gloria Jones. All of the surgeries were performed on the third floor of the North Pavilion and the South Pavilion to facilitate transporting the kidneys.
Since moving to Nashville, Meyernick, originally from Connecticut, has become a country music fan and asked Jones rhetorically, "Gloria, since the surgery, do you find yourself listening to more country music?"
"These exchanges — where we pair up non-family matches from a national data base — are really the next frontier of kidney transplantation," said Dr. Kulkarni.
"More than 90,000 Americans are on waiting lists for kidneys. The key is to get as many people into organ donation registries as possible so matches like this one surface. It's a wonderful way to return sick people to a life of health. Here at YNHH Transplantation Center, we have the staff and expertise to facilitate the matches and perform the surgeries."
"I would encourage everyone to register with an organ donor registry," said Tucker. "It is so wonderful to be able to give someone a second chance at life." Information on becoming part of an organ donor registry is available by calling the Transplantation Center at 866-925-3897.