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UK Kidney Donor Chain Shares Unique Bond

Josh James

Kidney transplants rarely make the news these days, but Wednesday was an exception at the University of Kentucky.

Living kidney donors often look to pass their life-giving gift onto family and friends, but sometimes the tests show they’re simply not a good match. That’s where the idea of a donor exchange comes in: donors agree to go forward with the procedure on the promise that a kidney from another donor will be given to their loved ones. As more participants sign on, it becomes what’s known as a “kidney donor chain.”

"The reward is this," says UK Division of Urological Surgery Chief Dr. Stephen Strup, pointing to a table lined with donors and recipients. "It's seeing healthy people and then saying 'Who gave and who received?' I'll tell you before the operations, it's not so hard to tell them apart." 

Credit UK PR
Track UK's first kidney donor chain

Wednesday, members of an 8-person donor chain at UK – the first of its kind at the university and the longest to date in the Kentucky – met each other for the first time. Nicki Coulter was the donor who started it all.

"I think about it and I can hardly stop smiling," she says. "I can't stop crying about it... with happy tears."

Recipient Carolyn Dye thanked everyone involved for banding the group together on a single mission, uniting the former strangers in a powerful way.

"You're part of my body now, a part of all of our lives. How can we ever thank you enough for the gift of life?" she said.

UK surgeons transplant about 80 to 90 kidneys a year, but close to 400 people remain on the waiting list.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.