3 patients meet donors for first time in kidney swap

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

Three Metro area patients were given a second chance at life because of the three-way kidney swap.

Markeshia Valentine, who wasn’t a match for her mother, Kim Yarbrough, gave her kidney to Lisa Ash.

Lisa’s husband, Tom, who wasn’t a match for his wife gave his kidney to David Hostetler.

And Tricia Meyer, who wasn’t a match for Hostetler, her long-time best friend, both from Colon, gave her kidney to Kim Yarbrough.

Not only are these six people connected through shared organs, but they shared the same doctors who performed all six surgeries on the same day.

After having the kidney transplant surgery three months ago, each recipient and donor met for the first time Thursday at the Henry Ford Health System's corporate office in Detroit. It was three months to the day when the operations were performed.

Beaumont Hospital, Henry Ford and the University of Michigan Health System collaborated on the kidney transplants.

Valentine of Dearborn Heights, who knew she wasn’t a match for her mother, said she jumped at the chance to sign up for the kidney swap program.

“For an opportunity to help my mother, and be a blessing to Lisa, there was no way that I would hesitate,” said Valentine, who is a mother of three. “I know most people would be concerned about only having one kidney, but I’m still able to lead a healthy normal life and so can Lisa.”

Here is how the program works: Someone may want to donate a kidney to a loved one but the blood type may be incompatible. Another person may be in a similar situation. But, by swapping donors and the recipients, each person is able to receive a kidney.

This year in Michigan alone, close to 2,892 people are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. There are 109,533 people waiting for a kidney in the United States, according to the University of Michigan Transplant Center.

Dr. Lauren Malinzak, director of the Kidney Paired Donation Program at Henry Ford Hospital, says a lot of legwork goes into recipients looking for a match.

“Our patients were very proactive when on the transplant list. For some people, it’s easy to match, while others are more difficult,” she said. “The most difficult to match is recipients with an AB blood type. It’s important to have more O positive blood types because they are universal donors.”

A person who receives a kidney transplant will not need a replacement until another 10-20 years. Dr. John Magee of U-M Hospital performed a kidney transplant for Hostetler 13 years ago and the patient received his second July 22 as part of the three-way swap.

“Over time, a kidney will reject in a body. It’s like fine china, it chips over the years and while it still might be in good shape, you know that eventually it needs to be replaced,” said Magee, who is the director of the Michigan Transplant Center at U-M. “It has only been three months and I’m very pleased that David and all of the patients look very healthy.”

Tom and Lisa Ash of White Lake have been married 31 years. When Tom Ash found out he wasn’t a match for his wife, he was devastated.

“Through this program, I was able to help my wife indirectly but also return the favor to someone else,” Tom Ash said. “We have always been close, but this experience has brought us closer together. To anyone that might be going through this, the only thing to do is just donate. It’s a good thing.”