By Kelly Werthmann

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – Eight strangers from across Colorado now share a remarkable bond after a historical chain of transplant procedures at University of Colorado Hospital.

(credit: CBS)

On April 27, surgeons at UCHealth performed the state’s largest ever in-house paired exchange involving eight patients — four kidney donors and four recipients. All four procedures occurred on the same day. On Wednesday, the donors and recipients all met each other for the first time.

“It’s like all of a sudden you just have a new family,” Derek Lewis, one of the recipients said.

(credit: Derek Lewis)

Lewis, a single father of two in Highlands Ranch, was in desperate need of a new kidney after spending more than a decade fighting kidney failure. He refused to spend hours in a hospital every day for dialysis treatments and believed he wouldn’t outlive the waiting list for a kidney transplant.

CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann interviews Derek Lewis. (credit: CBS)

“I was basically spent the last two years poisoning myself to sacrifice time with my kids,” he said tearfully.

Derek’s life was saved thanks to a woman willing to donate to a complete stranger.

Derek Lewis hugs Jenni Uzri. (credit: CBS)

“I believe it’s not enough to just see the bad stuff and feel bad about it and feel sad about it. I want to do something,” Jenni Uzri said.

Despite not knowing anyone in need of a kidney, Uzri signed up to be a live donor. A couple of months later, she left her home in Colorado Springs to have surgery at UCHealth in Aurora.

“I like to make people laugh,” Uzri said. “So, I had my daughter write ‘limit one per customer’ on my belly before the surgery.”

(credit: Jenni Uzri)

While her kidney did go to one patient – it went to Derek, but neither of them knew it at the time of the procedure – Uzri’s generosity set off a paired kidney exchange.

Paired kidney exchange occurs when a living kidney donor is incompatible with their intended recipient, so the transplant center matches the donor with another donor/recipient pair. Here’s how this historical chain breaks down:

  • Jenni’s kidney went to Derek.
  • Derek’s girlfriend, Marishia, wanted to donate to him but wasn’t a match. Instead, she donated to Crystal.
  • Crystal’s sister, Annette, was willing to donate but wasn’t a match, so her kidney went to Carina.
  • Carina’s daughter, Tonya, hoped to give a kidney to her mom. Since she wasn’t a match, her kidney was donated to Ethan.

Nationally, 95,000 people are on the wait list for a kidney at any given time. They wait, on average, four to seven years. In Colorado, nearly 2,000 people are waiting for a kidney.

Thanks to Uzri’s spare kidney and heart of gold, four lives were saved.

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“Just knowing that I’ve done something that changes the trajectory of a person and of a family, and then that changed other people’s families. I think that’s pretty cool,” she said, adding being a live donor is a blessing. “It’s a few weeks of inconvenience [for the surgery and recovery] to absolutely change somebody else’s life, and I can’t think of somebody who’s not worth that.”

Kelly Werthmann joined the CBS4 team as the morning reporter in 2012. After serving as weekend morning anchor, Kelly is now Covering Colorado First for CBS4 News at 10. Connect with Kelly on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @KellyCBS4.


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