Intermountain Medical Center ranks first for well-matched kidney donations this year

Dec 2, 2023, 3:01 PM

Matt Evans hugs Wendy Stapley, the living donor coordinator for Intermountain Health, after a press...

Matt Evans hugs Wendy Stapley, the living donor coordinator for Intermountain Health, after a press conference on Friday. Evans donated a kidney to an unknown person in order for his wife, Cathy, to receive a needed donor kidney. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

MURRAY — A perfect kidney match can be hard to find, but Matt Evans’ wife Cathy was able to get a kidney that was a perfect match for her transplanted on Tuesday because of the National Kidney Registry and its paired exchange program.

Earlier this year, Matt Evans donated his kidney and obtained a voucher that allowed his donation to benefit his wife when the perfect match for her was found.

“It’s been a great experience … the end goal is for her to get a kidney and for her to be able to live as long of a life as she can. And that’s what this program is going to do,” Evans said at a press event on Friday.

Intermountain Health’s Transplant Services was named as the top Kidney for Life program in the country for successfully matching living kidney donors to patients who need kidneys. It had the highest percentage of kidney transplants that were well matched over the last year when compared to the other 101 hospitals in the program.

Time to wait

Because Matt Evans donated a kidney before his wife was in immediate need of a transplant, his wife didn’t need to be at the point where she was fighting for her life and declining rapidly to receive a kidney, and she had time to wait for a great match.

Cathy Evans has polycystic kidney disease, so her kidney function has been decreasing for awhile. Matt Evans said he learned about it through the Intermountain website and was glad to hear he only needed to be healthy enough to donate, not a perfect match, to help his wife.

He said their three sons motivated him — he did not want them to be without a mom.

Matt and Kathy Evans at the Celebration of Life monument in Salt Lake City. Matt donated a kidney through the kidney exchange program so his wife could receive a perfectly matched kidney.
Matt and Kathy Evans at the Celebration of Life monument in Salt Lake City. Matt donated a kidney through the kidney exchange program so his wife could receive a perfectly matched kidney. (Photo: Family photo, via Intermountain Health)

Dr. Donald Morris, kidney transplant medical director at Intermountain Health, said a well-matched kidney is one of the best predictors of how well the kidney will work for the recipient, and allows patients to avoid using as many anti-rejection medications, which can cause additional health risks.

He said there are over 500 patients in Utah who need kidney transplants, and over 90,000 throughout the country. He said a kidney transplant doubles the chances a patient will survive, compared to dialysis; it improves the quality of life for patients and decreases the overall cost of health care for them.

Real heros

“The real heroes are the living organ donors,” he said.

Morris said living donor kidneys have better long-term outcomes for patients.

Because of the hospital’s participation in the National Kidney Registry, patients do not need to find someone who is a perfect match for them to get a living kidney donation, but anyone who is healthy enough can donate a kidney on a patient’s behalf while the patient is matched with another donor in the registry. Morris said this is called the paired exchange program.

“We’re very fortunate to have a dedicated team of passionate kidney coordinators on our living donor transplant team. And because of that, we’ve been very deliberate about trying to get patients very well-matched kidneys,” he said.

Morris explained that they do high-resolution typing to find kidneys that match well.

Wendy Stapley, a living donor coordinator, explained that when someone donates a kidney on behalf of a specific patient, they receive a voucher for a pair donation, which means the kidney can be donated at hospitals participating in the registry around the country. She said donors donate in the morning, and a recipient receives the kidney that same day in the afternoon.

Because the patient’s donor is donating their kidney to someone else, it means they can be available to help each other recover after the surgery, rather than recovering together.

Matt Evans said that Intermountain is as concerned about the donor’s health as the recipient’s health, and because of the high bar he met to qualify to donate, he had no concerns about his health after he donated a kidney. He said he felt a little bit of pain and discomfort, but overall had a great experience.

His wife will later need surgery to remove her own two kidneys as they are developing cysts, but they expect her to be released from the hospital from her transplant surgery on Friday.

Anyone can sign up to donate a kidney or liver through Intermountain, after an evaluation to see if they are healthy enough.

Stapley said living donors do not need to pay for anything; their surgery is paid for through the National Kidney Registry, the recipient’s insurance and Intermountain. Costs for travel, lodging and lost wages for donors are also covered.

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Intermountain Medical Center ranks first for well-matched kidney donations this year