Paired kidney exchange case has two strangers donate organs for life-saving surgery

IT’S a tale of sacrifice involving a father and daughter and two strangers searching for the gift of life.

Abby Colman, 14, urgently needed a new kidney. Hundreds of kilometres away, a stranger needed the same life-saving organ.

For both of them, time was of the essence.

In a South Australian-first paediatric kidney exchange, Abby was gifted a kidney from a stranger interstate and in return that person’s loved one was given a compatible kidney donated by Abby’s healthy dad, Doug, 54.

“At first, the Women’s and Children’s Hospital thought it was going to be near-impossible that they would find a match for Abby and the other person that needed a kidney,” Mr Colman, of Golden Grove said. “The odds kept getting bigger because there’s more people involved, the more complex it gets.

“But then they (doctors) rang us and said ‘we’ve found someone’ … they ring you out the blue and you just sit down and break down because it’s all going to happen.

“Straight away, I just went ‘yep, I’m doing it’ – I didn’t give it a second thought.”

A few months after she was born, Abby was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder resulting in the growth of cysts within her kidneys.

Mr Colman and Abby’s mother Tania always knew their daughter would eventually need a kidney transplant.

“It (the diagnosis) was gut-wrenching from the word go,” Mr Colman said.

“We didn’t have a clue what we were facing .”

Mid last year, as Abby’s symptoms worsened – she felt sick, was losing weight and struggled to eat – she faced kidney dialysis and a potential four-year wait on the national kidney transplant list.

Tests revealed Abby’s parents were incompatible donors and doctors then told them about the Australian Paired Kidney Exchange Program.

“It was a no-brainer for me, I could do it and we could get a kidney for Abby,” Mr Colman said of his decision.

The loving dad gave up a healthy kidney, matched and gifted to a stranger interstate.

In return, the stranger’s loved one gifted a life-saving kidney to Abby.

In some cases, the complex exchange program logistics can involve up to eight simultaneous pairs across Australia.

After rigorous testing to ensure both Mr Colman – and the stranger – could undergo the major surgery and survive with one kidney, surgery dates were set in December.

Within just 12 hours, four simultaneous operations in two states saw two kidneys removed from two donors – Mr Colman in SA, and a stranger in NSW – and transplanted into two seriously ill recipients.

With so much at stake, the surgeries had to be undertaken with military precision; precious minutes the difference between success and failure.

In Adelaide, Mr Colman went under the knife about 7am while his interstate counterpart underwent the exact same surgery.

By late morning, surgeons at the WCH removed Mr Colman’s kidney – in the only men’s operation that is done at the hospital – and packed it on a cross-country trip.

“They (the kidneys) both came out, they go on ice, they cross paths on the plane and within hours of the kidney from interstate turning up, Abby had her new kidney by early evening that same night,” Mr Colman said.

Within a couple of hours, Abby’s new kidney started working and her operation was hailed a success. The teen needs regular check-ups and medication to ensure her body does not reject the new organ and she will undergo a second operation on April 23 to remove her diseased kidneys.

An emotional Mr Colman said giving up an organ for a stranger was worth it to see his daughter so healthy and happy. “Everyone gives you a pat on the back for it,” he said.

“The first reaction people ask is ‘why’ and then you tell them why and they go ‘oh yeah, I’d do that, too.’ We’re grateful to that stranger, I don’t want any thanks . . . just, well done to them and we wish them all the best.”

Abby, who has autism and also lives with a benign brain tumour, said she loved spending time with her friends, going for walks, bike rides and listening to her idol Ed Sheeran.

“Abby’s just learning to get to the bus and she walked down to the shops the other day, it was brilliant,” Mr Colman said. “She’s improving all the time.”

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