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Opinion: Kidney Transplant Chain Is A Touching Act of Kindness


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An American flag flies outside the Houston Methodist Hospital at the Texas Medical Center (TMC) campus in Houston, Texas.
Image credit: Callaghan O'Hare

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You never know where an act of kindness ends.

Tara Berliski of Magnolia, Texas, offered to donate a kidney to her husband, John Berliski. His were removed in July because of polycystic kidney disease. Doctors at the Houston Methodist Hospital living donor program explained that because John Berliski has type AB blood, he could receive a kidney from almost any donor. But if John and Tara Berliski chose to enter a kidney swap program, they might be able to help someone else, too; someone else might help them.

John Berliski told the doctors, “Yes, I’ll go ahead and help whomever.” It set off an extraordinary chain of events, as reported in the Houston Chronicle.

Justin Barrow, a 40-year-old youth pastor in Longville, La., has a rare kidney disorder, and had a transplant when he was 15; it was beginning to falter. A cousin offered to donate their kidney, but doctors said it wasn’t a good match. A kidney from Tara Berliski would be.

Diane Poenitzch of Garland, Texas, had been on the list to receive a transplant for nearly four years. Her sister, Paula Gerrick, had offered to be a donor, but her blood type is AB. Not a good match for her sister, but potentially for John Berliski.

The National Kidney Foundation says more than 100,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney. Yet only about 20,000 receive a transplant each year. A patient on that list will wait an average of three to five years before they become one of the fortunate ones to receive a transplant. Many—there is no nice way to say this—die waiting.

But on October 20, a 30-hour series of operations began at Houston Methodist, involving more than 80 doctors, nurses, and technicians.

Justin Barrow’s cousin, Samantha Barrow, donated a kidney to Misael Gonzalez, whose mother, Teresa Salcedo, donated a kidney to Debra Lewing, whose supervisor, Dawn Thomas, donated a kidney to Diane Poenitzsch, whose sister, Paula Gerrick, has AB blood type, and donated a kidney to John Berliski.

Dr. Osama Gaber was the lead surgeon. When his young daughter, Nora, died in 1998, his family donated her organs for transplant. Years later, they founded Nora’s Home, where organ transplant patients and their families can stay before and after surgeries.

The 10 donors and recipients are all recovering, doing well and began to meet one another this week. They are former strangers, now bound for life by blood and kindness.

“You know you are saving loved ones,” Tara Berliski told us from Magnolia, Texas. “And that’s everything.”

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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