A hospital in San Francisco could be setting a world record for West Coast hospitals soon by preparing to do a six-way kidney transplant.

This means that a staff of five surgeons and over 60 support staff at the California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) will operate on a total of 12 people: six donors and six kidney recipients.

This kind of transplant chain is rare, but could be more common as more people require kidney transplants in the future. What usually happens is that someone needing a transplant has friends and family willing to donate, but are not compatible. So the hospital pairs that friend or family member of the first patient with a compatible recipient and the first patient gets paired with a similar friend or family member from the second patient that wasn't compatible with that patient.

In this particular case, this chain happened a total of six times, meaning that six patients needing a kidney will soon be getting a new one.

It all started with one altruistic person just wanting to donate a kidney.

"The altruistic donor creates this whole cascading effect of possibilities in matching people," says Dean Fryer, media relations manager at CPMC. "It very seldom goes to that number of people because it's hard to match up that many people, but they were all patients of CPMC, so we were able to match them."

The hospital scheduled the surgeries for two-days with careful orchestration of the surgeons and staff's schedules. Staff will check and double-check each donor and recipient and the hospital has systems in place to make sure everyone gets the right kidney.

But why do all the transplants within a certain time frame? The longer a donor or recipient waits, the more likely the chance of one or both getting a medical condition that would take away their qualification to donate or get a kidney. In other words, this is a case of "the sooner, the better". There's also a chance that if given enough time, some donors might change their minds and back out of the surgery.

In the U.S. alone, more than 100,000 people are on the kidney transplant wait list. Most need new kidneys within five years. Unfortunately, because the list is so long, some have died while waiting. Last year, surgeons only performed around 17,000 kidney transplants.

"The reality is that the number of candidates waiting continues to dwarf the number of donor organs available, and only you can change this-by registering as an organ, eye, and tissue donor and encouraging others to do so as well," writes OrganDonor.gov.

Photo: Tareq Salahuddin | Flickr

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