Man gets new kidney thanks to six-state transplant chain

Jason Gentry needed a kidney. Lisa Clouse wanted to give him hers. When the two weren’t a match, a paired kidney exchange across 6 states ensured Gentry — and 5 others — got the organs they needed.

5:00 AM

Author | Mary Clare Fischer

Women in hospital room with masks on. Man near pond holding a fish.
Jason Gentry and Lisa Clouse were involved in a paired kidney exchange that ensured Gentry received his second kidney transplant. Courtesy of Jason Gentry/courtesy of Lisa Clouse

Jason Gentry needed a kidney — again.

The second-grade teacher had undergone a kidney transplant in 2013 to treat a rare condition called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, or FSGS, which affects the kidneys' ability to filter blood properly.

For a few years since his operation, he'd been doing well — able to fish, ride bikes and play soccer with his 13-year-old son, as he loved to do. But then he started getting tired too quickly to participate in many of those hobbies. As his kidney's function unexpectedly worsened, it became tougher to put on a cheerful face for his family and students.

MORE FROM MICHIGAN: Sign up for our weekly newsletter

"These last couple years have been rough as far as stamina goes," Gentry said.

Gentry was put on the waitlist for another kidney. Yet he wasn't getting good news.

Four years of fatigue later, his brother had a solution. His brother's church had put a form on their website that they called a needs list. People could list what they needed — money for gas, a bed, a bicycle for their children. If a member of the church could meet that need, the giver and the receiver could be connected.

"He told me I should list that I needed a kidney," Gentry said. "I was having a hard time doing it. I don't like putting myself out there like that."

SEE ALSO: How Living Kidney Donation Works

But once he did, Gentry started getting calls and text messages from people who wanted to hear more. One was Lisa Clouse, a registered vascular technologist who'd been interested in donating a kidney ever since she saw how much the act could help her patients on dialysis.

"For a year and a half, every day the thought tugged at my heart," Clouse said. "So last December, when our church posted the needs list, and I saw at the bottom that someone on there needed a kidney, I felt like God was throwing this at me. This is what I was supposed to do."

Swapping donors

Unfortunately, Clouse wasn't a match for Gentry (organ donors and their recipients need to have compatible blood and tissues types.) Yet, there was another option: a paired kidney exchange through the University of Michigan Health Transplant Center.

Paired kidney exchanges take place when a donor isn't able to give a kidney to the person they intended but is willing to provide the organ to another recipient as long as a compatible kidney is found for the person to whom the donor originally wanted to give the kidney. In this case, Clouse could donate her kidney to someone else in exchange for Gentry getting a kidney from a different donor.

Clouse was game. "I knew I wanted something to happen for Jason, and I was happy to donate, however it happened," she said.

This chain gives me faith in humankind.-Jason Gentry, kidney transplant recipient

Randall S. Sung, M.D., a transplant surgeon and professor at Michigan Medicine, said that in its simplest form, a paired kidney exchange involves just two pairs.

"Each pair is not compatible with each other, but the donor from the first pair is compatible with the recipient from the second pair and the donor from the second pair is compatible with the recipient from the first pair," Sung said. "So the recipients essentially swap donors."

Sometimes, though, paired kidney exchanges are extended into chains where even more people are involved. That's what happened for Clouse and Gentry, who became part of a chain of kidney transplants that involved six different institutions and six pairs of donors and recipients in states ranging from Virginia to Tennessee to, of course, Michigan.

Donors and recipients at six different institutions participated in this paired kidney exchange. Credit: Jacob Dwyer/Michigan Medicine

Sung, who performed the operation to remove Clouse's kidney for transplant, says that U-M participates in a paired kidney chain every month or two but that the size of the one involving Gentry and Clouse was particularly impressive.

"This chain took a great deal of collaboration, flexibility and organization," said Krista Sweeney, the transplant coordinator for the Alliance for Paired Donation, which coordinated the chain. "To me, what made this chain so special was not only its size but its diversity. It is a true illustration of how kidney disease can affect any race, gender, or age – and a beautiful representation of how a single act of kindness can impact the lives of many."

Gentry received his kidney from a donor at Vanderbilt Transplant Center while Clouse gave hers to a recipient through Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist's transplant program.

Both operations went well. Gentry said his kidney function improved quickly after the transplant, and he now has much more energy, even more than he'd had after his first transplant.

"This is like the Incredible Hulk's kidney," he said.

Time to tell the story

Clouse, too, recovered quickly from her procedure and was back to her regular CrossFit routine within a few weeks.

But she was left a little wistful, wondering who had received her kidney and how they were doing — generally, those involved in paired kidney exchanges are anonymous to each other, unless both the donor and recipient agree they'd like to communicate — as well as how else she might be able to help.

So, when the Today Show came emailing with the opportunity for those involved in the cross-country kidney exchange to discuss their experience, Clouse was eager to participate.

Like Podcasts? Add the Michigan Medicine News Break on iTunes or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

"It was time now to tell the story, to talk about paired donation, to talk about what the options are, to share and educate more," she said.

SEE ALSO: Can My Child Be an Organ Donor? What Parents Should Know

On December 15, seven of the participants in the exchange, including Clouse and Gentry, joined a Zoom call with Kate Snow, a senior national correspondent for NBC News. They sat in their own homes and workplaces across the country, separated geographically. But as they spoke with one another, the kinship was obvious. They were forever linked by shared need and generosity, gratitude and purpose.

As Gentry said on the call, "This chain gives me faith in humankind."

Clouse was particularly overcome with emotion when meeting Brian Holloway, the man who had received her kidney for the first time.

"People like Lisa are just awesome because she didn't know who I was," Holloway said. "She didn't know who I voted for. She didn't know what my beliefs are. She just wanted to change someone's life."

"I'm so happy that so many people were helped out, but I cannot explain what a blessing this has been for me," Clouse said.

Learn more about living kidney donation at the U-M Health Transplant Center or call 1-800-333-9013  for more info.

More Articles About: Health Management Kidney Transplant Transplant
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

This article is from the Health Lab digital publication.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine



Get a weekly digest of medical research and innovation, straight to your inbox.

Featured News & Stories
Health Lab
Kidney Donation Connects Police Officers Beyond Line of Duty
Kidney transplant connects police officers through the gift of life.
Health Lab
Four-Time Organ Transplant Recipient Pays (and Pedals) It Forward
The gifts of life that healed a severely sick man inspired him to set a big goal to benefit others: Get 500,000 people to register as organ donors.   
Courtney Weirauch and family
Health Lab
A rare diagnosis and a young mother who’s spreading the word
Courtney Weirauch didn’t know what lymphangioleiomyomatosis was – but she quickly learned about the rare lung condition and how it would impact her life.
crowded blurred people walking in city streets
Health Lab
How Americans learned science in a hurry during a pandemic
People were plunged into the issue of COVID-19
older man holding hands up over head celebrating in hospital bed
Health Lab
Rebounding at 87 after CNS lymphoma
William Moldwin published a book, won awards and is making more plans for his future.
Three hands with two medical bands having the words penicillin allergy disappearing.
Health Lab
Are you still allergic to penicillin?
A new program is finding many diagnosed in childhood with antibiotic allergies are no longer allergic after retesting