After 6-person kidney exchange, families meet for first time: ‘A small sacrifice to make such a big impact’

After a series of successful operations this summer, a Mount Prospect couple on Thursday held a videoconference with the pair in New York that helped save each other’s lives.

SHARE After 6-person kidney exchange, families meet for first time: ‘A small sacrifice to make such a big impact’
Rick Calcutt, 59, listens as his wife Marissa, 52, tears up while speaking virtually to her husband’s kidney donor at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn on Thursday. The Calcutts were part of a three-way paired kidney exchange in which Marissa donated her kidney to someone who preferred to remain anonymous, which enabled Rick to receive a kidney from Christine Faust who,  is in Buffalo, New York.

Rick Calcutt, 59, listens as his wife Marissa, 52, tears up while speaking virtually to her husband’s kidney donor at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn on Thursday. The Calcutts were part of a three-way paired kidney exchange in which Marissa donated her kidney to someone who preferred to remain anonymous, which enabled Rick to receive a kidney from Christine Faust who, is in Buffalo, New York.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Rick Calcutt lived a healthy life for years despite having a kidney condition.

But the former pro athlete’s kidneys worsened over the last several months. He needed dialysis and used sleep apnea mask. He thought he had 5 years left to live.

“Dialysis wasn’t working... I was all hooked up,” said Calcutt, a 59-year-old father of three. “It looked like I was on my deathbed.”

His only hope was a kidney donation, but he worried a waitlist would take too long. And his wife, Marissa Calcutt, 52, was not a match.

So the Mount Prospect couple enrolled in a paired kidney donation program. The program lets healthy people donate a kidney in exchange for someone else to donate one to their loved one.

In just a week, the couple had found matching pair in Buffalo, New York, as well as two others who would complete the three-pair chain donation.

After a series of successful operations this summer, the Calcutts on Thursday held an emotional videoconference call with the pair in New York that had helped save each other’s lives.

“It’s an honor to meet you. I’m going to start crying,” Marissa Calcutt told Christine and Ruth Faust, a former mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.

Rick Calcutt, 59, and his wife, Marissa, 52, join a virtual meeting with Rick’s kidney donor, Christine Faust (left) and her former mother-in-law, Ruth Faust (right), at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn on Thursday.

Rick Calcutt, 59, and his wife, Marissa, 52, join a virtual meeting with Rick’s kidney donor, Christine Faust (left) and her former mother-in-law, Ruth Faust (right), at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn on Thursday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

As part of the exchange, Christine Faust donated her healthy kidney to Rick Calcutt so that another donor, who asked to remain anonymous, would donate their kidney to her mother-in-law, Ruth Faust.

“I’m glad I could share part of me with you,” Christine Faust told the Calcutts. “It’s such a small sacrifice to make such a big impact.”

Marissa Calcutt received a card Thursday from the person to whom she donated. Her kidney recipient, who is out of state, is married with a child and had a condition that ruined her kidneys four years ago.

“She said my kidney was a rock star,” Calcutt said.

The idea of paired donations was first implemented in 1991 in South Korea and was first successfully tried in the U.S. nearly a decade later.

Paired donations help speed up the matching process, since it’s often difficult finding compatible donors within any one person’s social circle. One in three healthy and willing donors are rejected because of incompatible blood type of antibodies. The three-way arrangement speeds up the process, increasing the match rate more than 50%, according to one study.

A diagram showing the three-way donation chain between the Calcutts, Fausts and two other people who wished to remain anonymous.

A diagram showing the three-way donation chain between the Calcutts, Fausts and two other people who wished to remain anonymous.

Advocate Health

But even larger chains of kidney donations are possible. One donation chain in 2012 included 60 people. Since the creation of the National Kidney Registry in 2007, kidney donation chains or paired-donations are more common.

This was was the first paired donation done at the Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, where Christine and Ruth Faust had their surgeries, their doctor said.

Back in Illinois, Advocate Christ Medical Center has performed paired donations at least twice before, according to Deepak Mital, the transplant surgeon and the Calcutts’ physician.

“The need for kidneys is dire,” Mital said.

More than 140,000 people are awaiting a kidney transplant in the U.S., and only 24,000 transplants happen a year, he said. The wait time is about 4 or 5 years for patients with previously healthy lifestyles.

Rick Calcutt, 59, and his wife, Marissa, 52, join a virtual meeting with Rick’s kidney donor, Christine Faust (left) and her former mother-in-law, Ruth Faust (right), at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn on Thursday.

Rick Calcutt, 59, and his wife, Marissa, 52, join a virtual meeting with Rick’s kidney donor, Christine Faust (left) and her former mother-in-law, Ruth Faust (right), at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn on Thursday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“This kidney paired donor exchange is a phenomenal way to shorten the amount of time on dialysis for patients. Donors like Marissa, God bless them. They take part in this exchange and donate a kidney to a stranger and a kidney comes to” their loved one, Mital said.

In the Calcutt’s case, doctors flew Christine Faust’s donated kidney by charter plane from New York to Chicago to get it here as soon as possible. Three days after surgery, Rick Calcutt was discharged home.

“I feel completely normal. And I just can’t believe how fast it went. Thankfully, you gave a kidney, and other people helped out too,” Rick Calcutt said.

The Calcutts and Fausts told others considering kidney donation that the process is easy.

“It really was a small inconvenience ... The surgery was quick. The recovery was quick,” Christine Faust said. “I don’t feel any different than I did before the surgery.”

The meeting Thursday between families, although over video, was “very emotional,” she said.

“I’m so happy for him and his family. I hope we can share some type of continuing connection,” Christine Faust said.

Christine Faust (left) and her former mother-in-law,  Ruth Faust (right) join a virtual meeting with  Christine’s kidney recipient, Rick Calcutt, and his wife, Marissa, at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn on Thursday.

Christine Faust (left) and her former mother-in-law, Ruth Faust (right) join a virtual meeting with Christine’s kidney recipient, Rick Calcutt, and his wife, Marissa, at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn on Thursday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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