Maine Kidney Donors Reunite With Recipients After Chain of Giving

100,000 people in the U.S. are currently on a transplant waiting list, and only 17,000 will get a kidney

Three Mainers received the gift of life earlier this month, all thanks to a man they'd never met, until Monday.

The six people lined up side-by-side in Maine Medical Center, where the surgeries took place, to form what's called a kidney chain, which is when one person's donation of a kidney can trigger more donations. Theirs was comprised of three donors and three recipients.

Their chain began with Stanley Galvin, a retiree from Pemaquid, who decided to give one of his healthy kidneys to a complete stranger.

"It's one of the few things to do that can truly impact someone's life," Galvin said.

In the transplant world, so-called "altruistic donors" are invaluable because their selfless act can set into motion a chain of giving. Galvin's kidney went to James McLaughlin of Scarborough.

"What a gutsy move," McLaughlin said. "It's improved my life significantly. There's just no way to thank the guy."

Galvin's donation to McLaughlin was paid forward, though, because McLaughlin's wife Maryann, who was not a match for her husband, found a match in Jan Bohlin.

"He said he'd take good care of my kidney," Maryann McLaughlin said laughing.

"She was so excited that it would make me feel better, just as her husband's transplant made him feel better," Bohlin said.

Continuing the chain, Bohlin's friend George Shepherd's kidney was not a match for him, but Shepherd was able to donate a healthy kidney to Richard Cook, a professor from the University of Maine.

"It changes somebody's life," Cook said. "It gave me life again."

The surgeries all took place on Nov. 4 in a 15 hour surgery session at Maine Medical Center that involved two surgeons and dozens of support staff.

"The donors are my personal heroes," said Dr. Juan Palma, who performed the surgeries on the donors. He says there aren't enough of them.

In the United States, there are 400,000 people on dialysis. One hundred thousand people are currently on a transplant waiting list and only 17,000 of them will get a kidney, leaving 75 percent dying while waiting for a kidney that never comes.

Thanks to these donors, Professor Cook is teaching again, James McLaughlin has the energy to travel with Maryann, and Jan Bohlin can go back to working on his antique cars.

Galvin said the surgery and scars are a very small price to pay.

"That's such a minor sacrifice for giving someone else life," he said. 

Click here to learn more about kidney donation.

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