The six donors and recipients who made up a three-way kidney transplant chain all met for the first time Thursday at North Shore University Hospital.
Dr. Nicole Ali, director of the Manhasset hospital’s transplant center, said the “truly unique” organ swap was possible only because of the “altruistic nature” of the three donors — Dawn Bates of Deer Park, Terry Fung Ching of Westbury and Catherine Richards of Hempstead — all of whom are educators.
Ali said Bates, a professor at Hunter College, set the plan in motion in October after learning she was not a match with her niece Nicole Johnson, who had been waiting a year and a half for a new kidney.
Bates, 49, decided to give up her kidney to someone else in the hopes that this act of kindness would generate some “good karma” for her niece.
Her generosity prompted Ali to devise the three-way chain.
Though Bates couldn’t give her kidney to Johnson, Ali said, she was a match for Tiffany Tung, 34, of Westbury.
But Tung had already secured a donor. Her husband Fung Ching, 31, a high school math teacher in Brooklyn, already was planning to give his wife her second transplant. In order to close the chain, Fung Ching would have to be convinced to give his kidney to someone else.
He said it was a “no-brainer.”
“I had already made the decision to save one life. Why not save more?” he said.
So Tung received Bates’ donation in October. And Fung Ching gave his kidney to another patient, Elaine Richards, 59, of Uniondale, who had been waiting four years for a compatible organ.
In 2012, Richards and her son, Melvin were both diagnosed with polycystic kidneys. Melvin, at age 38, received a kidney donation in 2013, but died two weeks later of a heart attack, because “the dialysis had taken such a toll on him,” his widow, Catherine Richards, 39, said.
“I didn’t want the same thing to happen to my mother-in-law. I wanted to do whatever I could to make sure that she could live her life,” said Catherine Richards, who closed the chain by donating her kidney to Johnson in February.
The six met and discussed the procedures Thursday in a conference room at the hospital.
There are about 100,000 people in the United States waiting for a kidney transplant, Ali said, and in New York State most people wait about five years.
“It’s really important what we’ve seen here today — people who are willing to give up part of themselves to help others have a really healthy life,” Ali said.
Though living donations have become more common, chain transplants — especially those involving surgeries occurring months apart from each other — are fairly rare, Ali said and requires all the parties involved to take a “leap of faith.”
“People would ask me what I would do if my donor decided to skip out,” Johnson said. “And I just said I had to leave it in God’s hands. Whatever’s meant to happen is meant to happen. This was meant to happen.”