Experimental surgery gives man a second chance

Groundbreaking surgery brought a new beginning to one Tri-State man living with polycystic kidney disease and helped him dodge dialysis altogether — but in order to make it happen, he needed help from dozens of other people.

Wayne Hubbard, 49, spent 20 years struggling with polycystic kidney disease, a genetic condition that causes painful cysts to develop on the kidneys. More than 600,000 other people deal with this condition in the United States alone, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

“I couldn’t breathe, hardly,” said Hubbard of his symptoms. “It was causing difficulty breathing. Any length of time walking, it felt like (my legs) were going to explode.”

Hubbard and his wife, Michelle, began a search for solutions that eventually led them to the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, one of the few places in the nation that can perform a kidney removal and replacement together.

But before the surgery could be performed, a donor would need to be found. Hubbard waited for a year and a half for a match; many people wait even longer. According to the Living Kidney Donors Network, the wait for a donated kidney can sometimes range from 5-10 years.

The Hubbards found a way to make it happen faster.

A paired kidney donation is a process that involves some internal mixing and matching: when a person in need of a kidney has a willing donor, but that donor is not compatible with the intended recipient, they can reach out to others in the same situation. 

A hypothetical Donor A may not be compatible with her husband, Patient A, but she may be a match for Patient B — and Patient B’s spouse, Donor B, may be compatible with Patient A. The two pairs can then work with doctors to set up an exchange: Donor A will give a kidney to Patient B, and Donor B will give a kidney to Patient A. This way, both patients are able to quickly receive the surgery they need.

Michelle Hubbard could not donate her own kidney to Wayne, but she could donate it to someone who knew another compatible donor.

“Without any risks, there’s no reward,” Michelle said. "I kind of knew some of the risks of donating a kidney, but really, the reward outweighed those risks, in my opinion: to see Wayne benefit and get the quality of life back that he needed and deserved.”

The paired kidney exchange circulated through 28 different people before making its way back to Wayne Hubbard, and, with the help of the University of Maryland Medical Center, he was finally able to get his miracle.

“He had immediate function of his graft and never had to go on dialysis,” said Dr. David Leeser, who specializes in kidney transplantation at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

“They can help you,” said Wayne Hubbard. “They can take them out and they can put a kidney in, and I’m proof of that.”

Today, there are 99,694 people on the waiting list for kidney transplants in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. More people in the United States need a kidney donated than any other organ.

To learn more about becoming a living donor, you can visit the National Kidney Foundation online.

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