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First Compatible Kidney Transplant Exchange in State

Surgery

Helen Adams | adamshel@musc.edu | July 16, 2018

Four people at MUSC Health have become the first in the state to team up for a compatible kidney transplant exchange. It all started last spring when Jeff Bailey, who had always been pretty healthy, learned that his kidneys were failing — and at a rapid pace. By June, he was having difficulty walking and completing simple everyday tasks such as cooking and shopping.

“My wife, Raejean, wanted to donate her kidney to me but we weren’t a match. We were on the national organ transplant waiting list, but time was running out,” said Jeff Bailey. “I felt like I had to have someone with me all of the time because I was getting so weak.”  Then, one day the phone rang and on the other end of the line was his MUSC Health surgeon, Satish Nadig, M.D., Ph.D. “He asked us if we were sitting down, because he had some important news to share with us.” 

Nadig told them the exciting news that they could be part of a compatible kidney transplant exchange, which involves an altruistic donor. The compatible kidney transplant could occur between the Baileys and two brothers, James and Michael Rau.  Michael Rau needed a kidney and his brother was ready to give him one.

But Nadig thought even bigger. Since James Rau’s blood type is O, considered the universal donor for transplantation, he could donate to anyone — including Jeff Bailey, a man he’d never met but whose life he could help save. But for the puzzle to fit together, Nadig needed to determine if Raejean Bailey was a donor match for Michael Rau. She was.  “I explained to James that he was in a unique situation to dramatically change two lives instead of one,” said Nadig.

“Living donor transplantation is a great example of man’s humanity to man. And, for those with Type O blood, they can amplify their gift of life.”  

“Once Dr. Nadig presented me with the opportunity, it was a no-brainer,” James Rau said. “I was already going to donate to my brother. After all, he’s my brother and he needed my help. But when I found out that since I’m blood Type O, I could change the quality of life for two people while still helping my brother, I knew it was the right thing to do.”  

The team at MUSC Health quickly set things in motion, working out the logistics and preparation for the transplants.

On June 27, 2018, the four people — two recipients and two donors — were wheeled into surgery.  The two families met the next day, along with Nadig and other members of the patients’ care teams. The room filled with warmth as the families exchanged hugs with each other and the medical staff.  

When Jeff Bailey shook James Rau’s hand, he quietly said, with tears streaming down his face, “You came in the nick of time.” It was then that the Raus learned of the Baileys’ dire situation.  “I knew I was making a difference, but had no idea how significant it was for the recipient and his family,” said James Rau. “I’m glad I learned that I was able to help.”  

James Rau, an ER doctor in the Upstate, said he would like to raise awareness about the fact that people with Type O, the most common blood type, can be game-changers for people needing organ transplantation.  

A family member said James Rau has a big heart and always looks for ways to improve lives.  

“We benefit from your big heart,” said Raejean Bailey. “Words can’t thank you enough.”