23 lives and counting: NJ residents paying it forward with organ donations
LIVINGSTON — It's an enormous sacrifice to give up a healthy organ, especially when you don't know of anybody in need.
The incredibly kind gesture of Caldwell resident Brian Glennon, made less than a year ago, has resulted in a record-breaking, life-saving transplant chain.
"I decided to donate because I kind of reflected on my life and realized one thing I was missing was giving back," Glennon said.
In October 2017, at the age of 46, Glennon donated a kidney that wound up being a match for Hayley Tsai, who had been dealing with serious health complications related to lupus.
Tsai's daughter, Jocelyn, wanted to donate her own kidney but she wasn't a match. When Glennon's donation was received, Jocelyn decided to pay it forward and go through with the donation anyway, willing to also help a stranger in need.
And so the chain began.
"Over the past seven or eight months, we have transplanted now 23 patients that was all based on one single donor who donated his kidney to someone he didn't know," said Dr. Stuart Geffner, surgical director of the hospital's Renal and Pancreas Transplant Division.
The 23-link-chain out of Saint Barnabas Medical Center is the largest single-hospital living kidney transplant chain in the nation.
"With living donation, I think the beauty of it is that it not only benefits the organ recipient, but it benefits the organ donor," Glennon said. "And my life feels more complete."
Glennon said he was "back to his normal self" within six weeks following surgery.
According to Saint Barnabas, most of the donors and recipients in the chain are residents of New Jersey.
Some recipients met their donors for the first time during a special ceremony honoring the chain on June 11.
"'Thank you' is never enough to say to someone that does something like that," said Kristen Renda, who received a kidney from Leisha Contes, whose mother also received a kidney as part of the chain.
"It really changed my life dramatically," said recipient Troy Dorch.
As the country as a whole experiences a decline in living donors, Saint Barnabas is seeing an increase. Saint Barnabas handled more altruistic donors — individuals like Glennon who just want to help — in 2017 than ever before.