Living with one kidney isn’t as hard as Zully Broussard expected it to be. Walking takes some effort, and it will be awhile until she gets back to her usual hobbies of running and hiking, but things are generally looking up.
Broussard, 55, returned home to Fair Oaks on Sunday after giving a kidney to a stranger and setting off the largest kidney paired donation chain ever performed at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.
Making history was not part of the initial plan, said Broussard, who wanted to donate her kidney to a sick friend. The two women were a match, but when the friend got sicker and needed a kidney urgently, she was given a more readily available organ from the medical center’s transplant list. Broussard, who was already in the midst of medical screenings, agreed to donate instead to another patient in need that she didn’t personally know.
Broussard’s decision to enter the donor pool touched off a chain that ultimately resulted in six patients receiving new kidneys from healthy individuals who wanted to donate to friends and family but found they were incompatible.
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The kidney that Broussard intended for her friend went to a Benicia man instead. His sister-in-law then donated to a Fresno mother. That patient’s son gave to someone else, and the donations continued until six patients in all received new kidneys.
All 12 individuals involved – six pairs of donors and recipients – underwent surgery at the center between Thursday and Friday of last week, and the last of them was discharged Tuesday.
“I just know that for someone to get up and not have to go to dialysis three times a week and be attached to this horrible machine, that alone is worth everything,” Broussard said. “They can live their lives just like you and I can.”
Using a live donor is two to three times more successful in the long run than giving a kidney patient an organ from a deceased donor because it avoids the long wait list associated with the latter method, said Dr. Steven Katznelson, medical director of the Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program at California Pacific Medical Center, a Sutter Health facility.
The chain donation was made possible by a bank of paired donors and recipients who are typically family or friends not compatible for a transplant. A complex mathematical system, conceived by a former kidney recipient, matches live donors on file with patients in need based on blood type and genetic makeup.
Staff in the transplant program were already looking for matching pairs for the California Pacific patients and their donors, and they had several options to choose from, Katznelson said. Adding Broussard to the pool resulted in 150 pair donation possibilities because of her genetic makeup and universal “O” blood type.
The California Pacific Medical Center has been doing paired donations since 2003 – some in a “closed loop” where an even number of incompatible donor/recipient pairs cross one another to make matches. Others have been in a “chain,” like last week’s, where an altruistic donor without a recipient starts a domino effect of pair donations. The San Francisco hospital performed a five-pair transplant surgery in 2011.
“We do a lot of living donor transplants where people want to give a kidney to someone they love or know,” Katznelson said. “But in terms of people who just want to give a kidney with pure, altruistic thoughts, it’s much more uncommon.”
Since Broussard’s story hit national media last week, Katznelson said he’s been receiving a rash of phone calls from people who are interested in doing something similar.
“Talk about a multiplier effect,” he said. “She multiplied the number of transplants we were able to do at our center, and if more and more people come forward and do the same, that effect can be easily felt across the country very quickly.”
Spreading the word about altruistic donations has been a big post-surgery prerogative for Broussard, who’s spending some of her recovery time speaking about how simple the process was for her and encouraging those who are healthy to consider it.
Broussard never felt apprehensive or fearful about the process. In fact, it was something she had considered in the past.
“It’s something I know deep down in my core and my soul that I always wanted to do,” she said. “For me, it was just a small inconvenience.”
Pam Nelson, a longtime friend of Broussard and of the woman initially needing the kidney transplant, said she was concerned when Broussard first announced she would give up the organ, but came to realize it was something she really wanted to do.
“We’re both just really blessed to have her as our BFF,” she said. “She’s the first person to lend a helping hand. She’s very selfless. She will look out for everyone else before looking out for herself.”
Broussard will meet the man who received her kidney at a reunion for all six donor pairs in San Francisco on March 25. She said she looks forward to it.
“It feels so good,” she said. “It feels like I did the right thing. I know it.”
Call The Bee’s Sammy Caiola, (916) 321-1636.
Six-way kidney donation chain
▪ Altruistic donor from Fair Oaks, Zully Broussard, gives to a Benicia man (Recipient No. 1).
▪ Benicia man’s sister-in-law donates to a Fresno mother (Recipient No. 2).
▪ Fresno woman’s son matches a Greenbrae mother (Recipient No. 3).
▪ Greenbrae woman’s daughter matches a San Francisco mother (Recipient No. 4).
▪ San Francisco woman’s daughter matches a San Francisco man (Recipient No. 5).
▪ San Francisco man’s sister donates to a Eureka man (Recipient No. 6).
Source: California Pacific Medical Center