Kidney exchange connects strangers through life-saving donations

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SALT LAKE CITY – Doctors performed six surgeries and three transplants in just two days, and it all adds up to a new lease on life for a group of people who are now forever connected.

Ari Fershtut was a part of a kidney donor chain that included himself, his son Beckham and several strangers.

“When our son was about a year old, they started to talk to us about the fact that he will need a kidney,” he said.

Fershtut said he decided to donate his kidney after seeing his son suffer. And, as transplant surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Campsen said, time was of the essence.

“There was a time crunch in the sense that if you can keep this child off of dialysis, he's actually going to live longer,” Campsen said.

Fershtut and his son weren’t compatible, so Fershtut became part of a kidney exchange program, which included donor Kristy Buffington, whose friend Brandy Jess needed a kidney. Buffington was willing to donate to her friend, but, like with the Fershtut family, they weren't compatible.

Buffington said Jess had been on dialysis for two years while waiting for a kidney when the pair traveled from Idaho to Utah to make the transplant happen. Doctors in Idaho said the pair would be good to go, but that wasn’t what they were told when they arrived in Salt Lake City.

“Said we weren’t a match, so we all had to turn around and go home so that was kind of hard," Buffington said.

But Buffington was a match for Beckham, and her kidney went to the child. Beckham’s mother, Harley Fershtut, said that was wonderful.

“It was so incredible to me that she would give up something that, you know, it wasn’t her family member, and she would still go ahead with us,” she said.

Buffington’s friend still needed a kidney, and a good Samaritan named Ted Bartling stepped forward at just the right time.

“I'm very blessed in my life to be healthy and strong and capable,” Bartling said. “I have a desire to see that for somebody else as well.”

Fershtut couldn’t donate to his son or to Jess, but his donation was the answer to the prayers of a man named Juan Romero, who had been waiting for three years to find a donor.

“I am feeling good,” Romero said after the transplant.

It was a complicated route with multiple connections, but in the end, the journey placed people right where they needed to be.

“I don’t see myself as a hero,” Buffington said of her decision to donate.  “I just thought if I could do it, why not?”

Bartling expressed similar sentiments.

“I think we just come to a point in life where we have to do more than the small things to help each other,” he said.

Click here for more information about life-saving transplants.