Utah man gets kidney from second-longest donor chain in history

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah -- The second-largest kidney exchange in history happened recently, and the University of Utah was a part of it.

More than 88,000 people are waiting for a kidney transplant, and an average of 12 people die each day while waiting for a donor.

People in need of a kidney donation may find someone willing to donate, but that person may not be a compatible donor. Donor chains pair such couples up with other couples in the same situation to create compatible pairs.

Bolton Collins was forced to put his life on hold after he found out he needed a kidney. He worried he would never find a donor.

"There were a couple times I was in the emergency room in Las Vegas wondering if I was ever going to walk out,” he said. “It was that hard to breathe and to wonder if it was ever going to get better."

Collins was entered into a national pair donor exchange program. Bruce Garrett, paired kidney exchange coordinator for the University of Utah, said these programs are very helpful.

"These paired donors and paired recipients participate in a large national pool with other paired donors and other paired recipients,” he said. “So, again, our program realized that and thought that this is a great opportunity to get our recipients transplanted."

Collins joined the chain, and he received a kidney from a living donor in Cleveland. Garret said the exchange was larger than most.

“It's the second-longest chain in the history of this country,” he said. “The first one was 31 donors and 31 recipients—this was 28 donors and 28 recipients."

Collins said he appreciates the sacrifices of the people who made getting a kidney possible.

"It's amazing to be part of that, mainly because it's so personal to me, and I understand how many people's lives have been adjusted or made better because of this: 28 people, and it all ripples throughout how many other people have been effected by that,” he said.

The donation chain began on April 30 in Tennessee and ended on June 5 in Ohio. Procedures were performed in 19 different medical centers. Collins said, even though she lives across the country, he hopes to meet his donor one day. Until then, he’s just living life to the fullest.

"What is there to really say? Thank you isn't sufficient enough,” he said. “So, as I think about it, the best way to be grateful for this gift is to make my life a better life than it was before."