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Austin area residents participated in historic chain of kidney transplants

Kent Bowen of Austin played a key role in a historic chain of kidney transplants.
Kent Bowen of Austin played a key role in a historic chain of kidney transplants.Facebook

Two Central Texans helped make global health care history.

Kent Bowen, 47, of Austin and Sherry Gluchowski, 59, of Leander were two of the links in a record-setting chain of kidney transplants last year involving 30 donors and 30 recipients. It’s been hailed as the world’s longest chain of living-donor kidney transplants.

None of the kidney donors knew the recipients beforehand; all of the donors were prompted to “pay it forward” because loved ones had received life-saving organs. The 60 operations spanned four months, 17 hospitals and 11 states, according to The New York Times.

The donors and recipients were matched through a computer program created by the nonprofit National Kidney Registry.

Bowen gave up a kidney after his mother, 69-year-old Mary Jane Wilson of Austin, got a kidney from Tremayne Wilkins, 40, of San Jose, Calif. Wilkins’ husband, Michael Wilkins, 43, had received a new kidney from Jesse Scott, 28, of Johnstown, Pa. Bowen’s donated kidney went to Olivo Cienfuegos, 60, of Stockton, Calif.

“In all actuality, giving a kidney is a small price to pay for getting my life back,” Bowen told The New York Times. Bowen joined the chain of kidney donors so that his mother, who had relied on his constant care, could get a transplant.

In the other Central Texas case, a kidney from Gluchowski went to Donald Terry Jr., 47, of Joliet, Ill. Terry was the last person in the kidney transplant chain. Gluchowski’s brother, Keith Zimmerman, 53, of Santa Clarita, Calif., had received a new kidney from Conor Bidelspach, 28, of Bend, Ore.

“This kidney chain,” Terry said, “has brought me back to life.”

Bowen’s and Gluchowski’s roles in the transplant chain initially were reported by The New York Times. All ages for the participants were at the time of surgery.

Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., where Terry and another patient got new kidneys in the 30-patient chain, said kidney transplant chains are transforming transplant medicine. Rather than waiting an average of four to six years to receive a kidney from a dead donor, a patient can find a living-donor match within just a few months.

Each chain starts when a Good Samaritan steps forward to donate a kidney, expecting nothing in return. A chain stops only when a recipient lacks a friend or relative who can keep the chain going.

“Without kidney transplant chains, these patients would have no other choice than to undergo years of grueling and time-consuming dialysis therapy,” the Loyola hospital said.

At the end of 2011, more than 39,000 people were undergoing kidney dialysis at more than 500 clinics around Texas, according to the End Stage Renal Disease Network of Texas.

In Texas, more than 9,500 people are awaiting kidney transplants, according to the National Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. The state has nearly two dozen kidney transplant centers, including one at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center. Since 1996, the St. David’s center has performed more than 350 kidney transplants.

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