Chicago doctor donates kidney to stranger, starts chain that saves 2 lives

A doctor at Northwestern Memorial Hospital agreed to donate a kidney to a stranger to help save two lives. 

Nephrologist Aleksandra Gmurcyk, MD, sees patients suffering from kidney failure every day. 

"I wanted to help someone," Gmurczyk said. "I know people can live healthy lives with one kidney, and I know the high need for living donor organs. I hoped by donating my kidney I’d help someone, and I also wanted to inspire others to donate."

The 46-year-old kidney specialist serves patients at Jessee Brown VA Medical Center. Many of the veterans she provides care to say they would rather stay on dialysis than undergo a transplant because of their distrust in the medical system.

Gmurcyk says she wanted to find a way to show her patients that a kidney transplant could change their lives. That's when she decided to donate one of her own. 

"It would have been difficult to choose one person and I couldn’t choose one," Gmurczyk said. "I decided to put my donation into a pool and hoped it would help more than one person."

Chicago doctor Aleksandra Gmurczyk recovers after kidney donation that helped save two lives. (Northwestern Medicine) 

On Feb. 16, Gmurczyk kicked off a kidney paired donation, which happens when patients have people who are willing to donate their kidneys, but they aren’t good matches with their designated recipients. 

Instead, the donors swap recipients, and give their kidneys to patients who are a better match. Gmurczyk donated her kidney to a hard-to-match Virginia patient she had never met, and that patient’s husband donated his kidney to a Northwestern Medicine patient in Chicago

"It’s the transplant world’s version of the perfect ‘domino effect,’" said John Friedewald, MD, medical director of kidney and pancreas transplantation at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "As a nephrologist, Gmurczyk understands the benefits and risks of becoming a living organ donor, and every day she sees patients who need kidneys. Our entire team was humbled to support her as she went through this process. We weren’t surprised that she chose to give the gift of life, but we were all moved by this experience."

Art Reyes, 51, of Chicago knows firsthand how life changing a kidney failure diagnosis can be. After diabetes caused irreversible kidney damage, he began dialysis to remove waste products from his blood in November 2021. 


Before Reyes was diagnosed, he and his wife enjoyed spending time with their many nephews and nieces. Dialysis forced him to focus more on his health and his next medical appointments, and it stole priceless time from his family.

"It was very depressing, and you kind of lose hope," Reyes said. "You hear all the statistics, and that it can take up to eight or 10 years to get a deceased donor. After we found out my family members weren’t a good match for me, I was thinking I should just enjoy the time I had left."

Luckily, Reyes was selected to receive a kidney as a result of Gmurczyk's donation. 

Currently, 90,000 people in the United States are waiting for a kidney donation and 85 percent of patients waiting for organ donation are waiting for a kidney, according to Donate Life America. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates more 1 in 7 adults in the United States have chronic kidney disease.

People who are interested in becoming kidney donors can visit