(NECN: Barbara Morse Silva) - A Rhode Island patient in need of an organ transplant was able to find a donor, but they weren't a match.
Thanks to a paired organ exchange program, she was able to get the transplant she needed.
Sandra Bethune and Pam Vidal have been best friends pretty much forever.
"My aunt and her mom grew up together in Falmouth and when I was 4-years-old, my aunt took me to see her best friend in Rhode Island and that's how I met Sandy. She was 5 and I was 4," said Pam Vidal, kidney donor.
So when Bethune’s kidneys began to fail, Vidal was there emotionally. And then, Sandra had to go on dialysis.
"She was going downhill. You could see it," said Vidal.
A couple of family members came forward. None were healthy enough. Then something happened.
"April 10 last year, I had a dream that sandy and I were on gurney's together and my kidney just kept pulling over to her," Vidal explained.
So Vidal called Bethune.
"’I have a healthy kidney and you don't and I want to give you my kidney,’ and we cried.”
It turned out pam was perfect donor material, but not for Bethune.
"She said ‘Okay, we don't match, but okay, what's the next step and that's when they introduced us to the exchange program," Bethune said.
"Rhode Island Hospital was the first hospital in the US to do paired kidney exchanges. We exchanged kidneys between two patients who had different blood types and both families agreed they would donate to the opposite family to allow transplantation to occur," said Dr. Paul Morrissey, a surgeon at the hospital.
The kidney exchange is now a national program. Vidal was willing to donate. And two folks in Maryland were willing, and like Vidal, not a match for their loved ones. So the three hospitals coordinated a three way kidney exchange. The actual date was February, 25, 2013.
"So timing is everything, so there's a lot of coordination between our center, Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland. On the actual day of surgery, all the surgeons are in communication about making their incisions and starting operations at the exact same time," Dr. Morrissey continued.
Six months later, Bethune says she got her life back.
This kidney exchange is offered to donors like Vidal who are willing and healthy enough to donate but not a match for the recipient.
Dr. Morrissey says there are advantages to receiving a kidney from a live donor. The wait can be considerably less, the kidney usually works immediately, and lasts longer.