Four strangers donate their kidneys to save four lives

FOX 32 NEWS - Two Illinois men and their families are celebrating this Christmas with a life changing experience.

One man needed a kidney to survive and the other wanted to donate it. But they weren't a match. However, what happened next turned out to be much bigger than they ever imagined.

Bret and Mark are brother-in-laws who have one very powerful bond: both are part of a one day kidney swap at Northwestern Memorial Hospital that involved eight people and saved four different lives.

"I'm part of this network of donors that's part of a global community,” said donor Brett Strand.

"None of the donors that day donated to the person they came in with  they were all willing to give to a stranger to save the person they knew,” said recipient Mark Jakeway

To understand their story, you have to understand the process. Mark was very sick and in need of a kidney transplant. At the time, his soon to be brother-in-law, Brett, wanted to donate. But he wasn't the right match.

Brett put his name on the list of people willing to donate to a stranger so Mark could get a kidney. It’s part of a program called ‘Kidney Paired Donation.’

"An intended donor will give to someone else in exchange for that persons donor giving a kidney,” said Dr. John Friedewald.

In the meantime, while they waited for a matching donor, Brett and his wife Stephanie planned their January weeding.

In mid-October, a donor was found for Mark and Brett became a match for another patient. This was all occurring 8 weeks before Brett was supposed to get married, and it was possible because of a technical computer algorhythm that acts like a match making program.

"It simply matches people together, looks for best matches optimizes and gets most number of matches, etc."

So on the same day, four donors gave kidneys to strangers and four recipients lives were saved.

Brett later met the man who got his kidney and eventually mark met his donor. And 8 weeks later, Brett got married and was able to enjoy his honeymoon.

It was a life changing experience for everyone that has them especially thankful this holiday season.

There are several hundred transplants done every year through the kidney paired donation program, and doctors say anyone can donate, even if they're not looking for a kidney for a loved one.