When 27-year-old Illinois resident Ray Fearing needed a kidney transplant his sister stepped up and donated one of hers. Sadly, due to the very disease that destroyed his original kidney – focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a disease in which scar tissue develops on the part of the kidney that filters waste out of the blood – the potentially life-saving gift from his younger sister was being damaged.
In most cases, if organ transplants such as these fail, doctors simply dispose of the organ, but with 73,000 people on transplant waiting lists, the transplant specialist overseeing Fearing’s transplant, Dr. Lorenzo Gallon had an idea.
He wondered if the kidney could be removed and transplanted into another on the waiting list. After speaking with Fearing and his sister, the decision was made to try.
That is when 67-year-old surgeon Dr. Erwin Gomez of Valparaiso, Indiana was called. Dr. Gomez had been on dialysis and was on the kidney transplant list.
Because the father of five is a surgeon himself, Dr. Gomez was better equipped to understand the risks and possible benefits of this rare “re-transplant.”
On July 1, the kidney originally belonging to Cera Fearing was removed from her brother and transplanted into Dr. Gomez. However, it was not until April 25 that the three – Dr. Gomez and Ray and Cera Fearing – met for the first time at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Today, Dr. Gomez says he is doing well and is off dialysis. He has even gone back to work.
While Fearing is once again on the waiting list – his doctors say those with his disease often have to go through more than one organ – he told CBS News he is “extremely happy about being a part of this medical breakthrough,” adding that he hopes this case will help others.
“This is a ground-breaking medical moment because it suggests that it is possible to reverse the damage done to a kidney as a result of FSGS after it is re-transplanted into a body with a healthy circulatory system,” said Joseph Leventhal, MD, PhD, transplant surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and associate professor of surgery and director of kidney and pancreas transplantation at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Not only did we save a viable organ from being discarded, we also made significant strides in better understanding the cause of FSGS, which has been relatively unknown, so we can better treat the disease in the future. This proves that when an organ fails in one body, it may thrive in another.”
This transplant case was recently published in a research letter in the April 26 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.