Ailing Couples Swap Kidneys

Rare procedure matches husbands, wives in transplants

By Gene Cubbison
|  Tuesday, Aug 25, 2009  |  Updated 6:29 AM PDT
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From feft: Patrick Ford (donor to Paul Bryan), 42, of San Carlos, a UPS sales executive; Patti Ford (recipient from Robyn Bryan), 50, a former "outside sales" executive; Paul Bryan, (recipient from Patrick Ford), 50, of Escondido, a Golf Mart club salesman; and Robyn Bryan, 44, a TaylorMade production planner

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Paul Bryan and Pattie Ford both needed kidneys. Bryan, a 50-year-old resident of San Carlos, and Ford, 50, from Escondido, both suffered from polycistic kidney disease -- the same disease that killed two members of Ford's family.

Ford lingered on a kidney-transplant waiting list. Bryan went through tedious sessions of dialysis. Their spouses were willing to donate a kidney to their loved ones, but neither was a match. And then a hospital worker paired the couples up.

Patrick Ford, Patti's husband, turned out to be a perfect match for Paul Bryan. And Robyn Bryan, Paul's wife, was a match for Patti Ford. Last week, doctors at UCSD Medical Center performed two operations, putting healthy kidneys from Patrick Ford and Robyn Bryan into Paul Bryan and Patti Ford.

It was the first ever paired donor transplant performed south of Los Angeles County, and one of about 100 performed throughout the U.S. during the past two years.

"This is huge to me, and it's not all about me," said Patti Ford, wiping away tears during an emotional Monday news conference at the hospital. "This, today, isn't about me, because Robyn gave me a better quality of life.

"I could have had a cadaver kidney -- not that that's bad -- but it's better to have a live donor."

The couples met just two weeks before the Aug. 19 surgeries. The donors and recipients have uncommon A and B blood types, making it more difficult to find a match. Officials estimated that the likelihood that the wives' blood types matching as well as the husbands' was about 5 percent.

Screening by the hospital's transplant coordinator, Tina Kress, brought the couples together, and both prospective donors readily agreed to the swap.

"He saved two lives," Patti Ford said of her husband. "He saved a marraige. And he saved Paul, to have a better life."

Bryan said he was long overdue for kidney dialysis, but when hewoke up the morning after the surgery, he felt as if he'd never bene sick.

"Somebody up there was looking out for us," Bryan said. "I'm one of the most fortunate people in the world."

Robyn Bryan said the couples had so many things in common that they quickly bonded.

"I got that deju vu thing going," she said. "I just felt like we knew them from somewhere, and sure enough, it was meant to be."

Said Patrick Ford: "I'm just glad that my wife's feeling better and healthy. And I'm glad that Paul's feeling good and doesn't have to go through dialysis."

The UCSD surgeons who performed the procedure, Akai Khanna and Marquis Hart, said the hospital would be expanding its efforts to expedite more paired donor transplants by partnering with several kidney exchanges throughout the country.

For her part, Patti Ford vowed to become a tireless, prominent advocate for the cause.

"I just feel that we're going to be better off and it's going to help more people -- people not being on that [waiting] list," she said.

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