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Altruism, algorithm bring 18 strangers together to share the ultimate gift


Donors, recipients and YNHH care team members came together Aug. 27 to celebrate the Transplantation Center’s 18-patient kidney exchange.

For the first time, on Aug. 27, Mike Murphy of New York met the person who had given him the best gift he’s ever received: a new kidney.

As it turns out, Murphy and his kidney donor have a lot in common. Though not related, they share a last name. Cory Murphy of Bridgeport is a dancer; Mike Murphy is a musician. Both were originally from North Carolina and, incredibly, both sport Mohawk hairstyles. Theirs wasn’t the only amazing story that came out of a special event at Yale New Haven Hospital to commemorate the largest kidney exchange in Connecticut and one of the largest in the country. Between May 9 and June 21, YNHH’s Transplantation Center successfully transplanted kidneys from nine donors into nine recipients. All 18 patients – 14 from Connecticut, two from New York and once each from New Hampshire and Florida – are doing well.

“It’s extraordinary,” YNHH President Richard D’Aquila said at a press conference. “These kinds of paired transplant exchanges with living donors are game-changers.”

This exchange began with one altruistic donor, Robin Gilmartin of West Hartford, who donated a kidney to Patricia Villers of Ansonia. Villers’ sister-in-law, Suzanne Watson of New Hampshire, then successfully donated to William Greenwood of Bethel. William’s wife, Devon Greenwood, who was not compatible to donate to her husband, donated her kidney to Elly Borth of New Milford. And on it went, thanks to hard work and a computer algorithm that helped YNHH staff members match the nine donors with recipients.

Transplantation Center surgeons praised the donors, noting that four of them could have given their kidneys to family members, but decided to donate to strangers as part of the larger exchange so more people could benefit.

“Donors are heroes, in the deepest sense of the word,” said David Mulligan, MD, director, Yale New Haven Transplantation Center. “It has truly been a miracle for the Transplantation Center to bring all these amazing pairs together, but it is also an example of the fantastic multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, social workers, dietitians and tissue typing lab and OR staff that made each donor and recipient come through with shining colors.”