Jordan Gray was 14 years old when his mother, Vivianne Pommier, received her first kidney transplant. He was too young to donate one of his kidneys to her, but throughout high school and college, he promised he would if the time came. “I wanted to be able to help my mom,” he said. More than a decade later, Pommier’s donated kidney began to fail, and Gray was prepared to fulfill his promise. But he wasn’t a match.
Like Gray and Pommier, Aziza Al Ahmari wanted to donate to her husband, Abdullah, and James DiNatale wanted to give to his wife, Carol Miller, but the couples — compatible in life, incompatible in kidneys — weren’t perfect matches. All three potential recipients had received kidney donations before, and as a result, all three had become “sensitized;” they had developed antibodies that made finding appropriate donors more difficult.
Enter Keith Melancon, M.D., chief of the Division of Transplant Surgery, director of the Transplant Institute at GW Hospital, and professor of surgery at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS). The “rock star” surgeon, as he’s known, regularly performs the trickiest, most complicated kidney transplants. In June 2015, Melancon, along with Thomas Jarrett, M.D., chair and professor of urology at SMHS, performed the first-ever three-way paired kidney exchange at GW Hospital by mixing and matching the mother-and-son and husband-and-wife couples.
“In every single one of these pairs, there had to be a loved one that stepped forward,” Melancon said of the swaps between strangers. “These people were willing to be selfless enough to give to someone else in order for their loved one to get transplanted.”
DiNatale donated to Abdullah, Gray to Miller, and Aziza to Pommier. The donors had never met the recipients — until the launch of the GW Ron and Joy Paul Kidney Center on Nov. 5. As they stood at the front of the Weingold Conference room in Ross Hall, four of the six (Aziza and Pommier were unable to attend the event) greeted each other. Hugs replaced handshakes, and Miller and Abdullah teared up.
“We’re going to do plenty more,” Melancon promised, while the four pulled on GW hoodies and continued to talk with one another.
That ability to do more comes with the new center, designed to educate the Washington, D.C. community about kidney disease, provide patients with information about treatment options, and promote the paired kidney exchange list, the one from which Pommier, Abdullah, and Miller benefitted.
Washington, D.C. has some of the highest rates of kidney disease and failure in the nation. There are around 700,000 people with kidney disease in the District; 7,000 are on dialysis; and 1,700 are waiting for a transplant. The demand for kidneys, however, especially from live donors, far outweighs the supply. Melancon, along with Barry Wolfman, M.S. ’84, CEO of GW Hospital, and Jeffrey S. Akman, M.D. ’81, RESD ’85, vice president for health affairs at GW, Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administrative Medicine, and dean of SMHS, are hoping that outreach from the new center will help right that scale.
“Out of every crisis, opportunity presents itself, and this one is no different,” Wolfman said to the crowd of health care professionals and advocates.
The impetus for the center came from Ron Paul, who, like the recipients recognized at the launch, has had two kidney transplants. He was diagnosed with glomerulosclerosis, a rare kidney disease that had already sent his kidney into failure, at an early age — 27 — just as he and his wife, Joy, were starting to build a life together. “There were many tears, but we both knew we had to live on,” Paul recalled at the event. “As those who know me, slowing down was not an option. We had no choice but to accept the fact, fight the battle, and get through it.”
On Jan. 19, 1990, he received a donation from his brother, Steven. Almost 20 years to the day after his first transplant, Paul received a second kidney, this time from longtime business associate Kathy McCallum, on Jan. 21, 2009.
Since the announcement of the center, Joy Paul said that she has received more than 100 calls from people looking for more information, and she and her husband have been rocked by both the stories they have heard and the need for help.
“We have no choice but to reduce the statistics,” Ron Paul said. “I firmly believe that with the talent we have around this room and the talent we have in this city that we can make a difference. Again, we have no choice.”
The GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, GW Hospital, and the GW Medical Faculty Associates will host an event on Thurs, Nov. 5, to announce the Ron & Joy Paul Kidney Center.
October 28, 2015
- The GW Hatchet, 10/28: “Medical school launches kidney center with $2.5 million gift,” by Lillianna Byington
- GW Today, 10/28: “Kidney Center to Launch at GW Hospital”
- Washington Business Journal, 10/28: “D.C. hospital's new kidney program underscores CEO's strategy 'to do things no one else does,’” by Tina Reed
- Washington Business Journal, 10/28: “Ron Paul is donating millions to fight kidney disease,” by Andy Medici
- HealthLeaders Media (via Washington Business Journal), 10/29: “DC hospital's new kidney program underscores CEO's strategy 'to do things no one else does'”
- Bisnow, 11/3: “Business Leader Funds New Kidney Center,” by Tania Anderson
- The GW Hatchet, 11/4: “As kidney disease increases, kidney doctors decrease,” by Lila Weatherly
GW Ron & Joy Paul Kidney Center to Increase Live Kidney Donation in D.C.
The GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, in concert with GW Hospital and the GW Medical Faculty Associates, has established the Ron & Joy Paul Kidney Center to raise awareness about kidney disease and increase live kidney donation in Washington, D.C.
November 5, 2015
- FOX5, 11/5: “New Kidney Center at GW Hospital”
- NBC4, 11/5: “New GW Kidney Center Opens, Exchange Donors and Recipients Meet for First Time”
- WUSA9, 11/5: “Kidney Recipients Meet Their Donors”
- Bisnow, 11/6: “Eaglebank CEO Ron Paul Opens New GW Kidney Center,” by Ethan Rothstein
- WTOP-FM, 11/6: “3-way transplant brings area families together,” by Paula Wolfson
- The GW Hatchet, 11/8: “New kidney center to increase treatment, research efforts,” by Lillianna Byington
- GW Today, 11/9: “GW’s Kidney Center Provides Health Solutions in Washington,” by Julyssa Lopez