The 2006 Three-Way Cross Country Kidney Swap That Almost Didn’t Happen

Tomomi Barron wanted to donate a kidney to her husband, Patrick. The problem was, she wasn’t a match. Patrick suffered from kidney failure due to a genetic disorder (Polycystic Kidney Disease) and created a website seeking a donor. They also traveled to various hospitals to get on a shorter waiting list and even thought about traveling to China, where foreigners could get transplants quickly. Then, Patrick’s nephrologist, Dr. Toby Gottheiner, set up a direct exchange (swap) between 2 of his own patients who lived here in the Bay Area.  

Patrik & Tomomi

In October 2006, the Barron’s got a call from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, which they had visited. Tomomi’s kidney was a rare match for one of Dr. Montgomery’s patients. That other woman, Robyn, could find no other match, and things weren’t looking good for her. A native of Japan, Tomomi was impressed by the culture of volunteering in her new country, and she was determined to take the extra step and give her kidney to the woman who seemed almost impossible to match.

Johns Hopkins physician Robert Montgomery, MD, a pioneer of kidney paired donation, suggested a three-way cross-country swap among donors, inserting his hard-to-match patient, a Maryland resident, into the mix. Patrick wasn’t sure all that travel was suitable for them and wanted to go only with a local donor swap. However, Tomomi convinced him to go with a three-way match to help the Maryland resident.  Without Tomomi’s compassionate intervention, paired matches might not be as prevalent today. 

Donating a kidney is an amazing gift of life. Tomomi’s cross-country kidney donation was not only a gift to all the three patients in this exchange but to future kidney donors and recipients as well. (Direct exchanges and transplant chains were new in 2006.)  Patrick’s and the other kidney recipients’ transplants were pioneering efforts to search the U.S and utilize different hospital systems working together to ensure the best patient outcomes. 

Thank you, Tomomi, for your miraculous gift.