Transplanting a kidney is a dicey enough proposition at first go, so the fact that Northwestern University doctors have transplanted the same kidney twice is nothing short of remarkable. Working under a set of extenuating circumstances, the surgeons transplanted the kidney twice in two weeks, and the final recipient–the third person to claim ownership of the organ–is reportedly doing well.
The story started with a 27-year-old patient with a conditions known as focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), which causes scar tissue on the part of the kidney that does the actual filtering of waste from the blood, leading eventually to kidney failure. The man received a kidney from his sister, but within days signs of his FSGS began to manifest themselves the new kidney, posing life-threatening complications. The new kidney had to come out–but, doctors thought, why discard an otherwise perfectly good organ when there are so many people on the waiting list for donated kidneys.
Having been in need of an organ donation himself, the man was happy to have the kidney–only briefly his own–passed on to some other person in need of a healthy organ. So after a bit of discussion on issues both ethical and medical, doctors removed the kidney and transplanted it a second time in two weeks to a 67-year-old father of five.
Upon second transplant the kidney regained function almost immediately and even showed reversal of the slight damage caused by the original recipient’s FSGS. All said, it’s a medical first, but also a revelatory occurrence that reinforces the view that an organ that fails in one body may do just fine in another. The original recipient is awaiting another transplant.