Search for a Kidney Donation Touches 12 Different Lives

This extraordinary string of organ transplants was dubbed "The Twelve Person Kidney Exchange."
Andrew Thomas September 8, 2018

Brendan Flaherty was born with Denys-Drash Syndrome resulting in unhealthy kidneys, and before he was even 2, he needed a kidney transplant. At 15 months old, he received a kidney donation from his father.

But for the past six years, Flaherty, now 21, has been on dialysis—hooked up to a machine for some six hours a night, according to CBS.

And now, he was desperately in need of a second kidney transplant.

Brendan Flaherty was in desperate need of a kidney. After he discovered his friend wasn’t a match,
someone unexpected stepped in. (Courtesy of Brendan Flaherty)

A close friend, Philip Cameli, graciously offered to donate one of his own kidneys to Flaherty. However, the process wouldn’t be that simple.

Kidney failure is one of the most painful, life threatening medical conditions one can experience. Patients require dialysis treatment, and in many cases, a kidney transplant.

Waitlists for a transplant are long, and finding a suitable match can take a long time. Fortunately, we still live in a world where people are willing to donate organs, and volunteer out of a sense of virtue.

But unfortunately, Cameli and Flaherty did not have a compatible tissue match.

Receiving that kind of bad news when your life is at stake can be crushing. Patients can only hope and pray that they find a suitable match before they go into complete kidney failure, and there’s only so much time they are able to wait.

Incredibly, Flaherty was able to keep his composure.

“Any time you hear that it’s always disappointing, but I’ve heard so many of those. We kind of just expected it,” he told Humanity.

That’s when—out of the blue—a brave, compassionate woman named Kimberly Cooper stepped up.

Kimberly Cooper. (Courtesy of Kimberly Cooper)

Cooper has volunteered since college, and she’s been helping people ever since.

“I believe that there’s just a higher power. I just believe I could do more,” she explained to Humanity.

One day Cooper simply walked into Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and decided she wanted to donate. She didn’t have a family member or friend to donate to, but she was determined to help someone who needed a kidney.

“I’m going to be living on with this young man, who is going to get another opportunity at life,” she said.

Flaherty was a complete stranger to her, but that didn’t matter. “I found more of a purpose in my life.”

The surgery took place Feb. 21, 2018 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. It took approximately three hours of surgery to remove Coopers kidney. For Flaherty, it took approximately four hours of surgery to receive Cooper’s kidney.

Flaherty now has a healthy kidney, and just days after his surgery he says he’s feeling great.

But this first act of kindness was just the beginning.

Although Cameli wasn’t able to donate his kidney to Flaherty, he was determined to follow through on his good deed. There was a swap program Northwestern Memorial had in place, and they were able to find a patient that was a match.

“It seemed kind of the same to me. I was still giving a kidney, Brendan was still receiving one,” Cameli explained to Humanity during a phone interview.

Cameli ended up donating his kidney to Clotilde Ruiz, who was also a complete stranger to him at the time. However, all that mattered to Cameli was that they were a match, and he was able to help someone in the same situation as his friend Flaherty.

Ruiz is grateful and and is in good spirits.

“I feel well, thank God,” Ruiz told Humanity.

Over the next few days, what happened was extraordinary.

Twelve near strangers came together in an extraordinary chain of events. (Courtesy of Northwestern Memorial Hospital)

Daisy Ruiz, who was not a tissue match for her aunt Clotilde Ruiz, was able to donate a kidney to another stranger, Scott Rial.

Three other donors also successfully donated kidneys to three recipients during the end of the same week. One of the donors and one of the recipients wished to remain anonymous. The donors and patients finally met each other Wednesday, Feb. 28, culminating in an extraordinary string of organ transplants that Northwestern Memorial Hospital is calling “The Twelve Person Kidney Exchange.”

(Courtesy of Northwestern Memorial Hospital)

Though most of these people were strangers, they forged a fast and unique bond.

“I always want a relationship with him, with his family because it’s just such an intimate thing, that I feel like he’s my child almost,” Cooper said of Flaherty.