By Rebecca Sheir
Participants in the world's largest kidney exchange are finally putting faces and names to the organs they donated or received at four hospitals in the D.C. area.
Now that most of the patients have had a chance to meet, they're taking some time to say thanks.
It wasn't your usual meet-and-greet today at the Washington Hospital Center.
This is always the best part," says Dr. Keith Melancon, a surgeon who helped coordinate the mass kidney swap, "to see everyone meeting!"
By everyone, Dr. Melancon means nearly all 28 people who took part. It's like a living donor chain: if you and your intended recipient don't match, you give your kidney to someone else. And in turn, he or she has a relative or friend donate to someone else.
Ralph Wolfe of Mount Airy, Maryland, kicked off the exchange when he found out he couldn't give a kidney to his wife.
But I was undeterred," he says. "I just said, 'look, I know I got a kidney. Lets just give it to somebody. Lets get this thing going!'"
So Wolfe had Dr. Melancon remove the organ, and last week it was given to Gary Johnson: a diabetic from Hyattsville, Maryland, whos been on dialysis nearly 10 years.
"It was difficult every day I went in," he says. "Now tomorrow, no dialysis...I love you, Ralph!"
To which Ralph responds: "We can say the feelings mutual, right?"
On any given day, 6,000 people in the D.C. area are on dialysis. Nationwide, more than 80,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney.