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Doctors at UCLA are saving lives by 're-gifting' kidneys that were transplanted once before

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LOS ANGELES (Circa) - Re-gifting is often considered taboo, but for 70-year-old Vertis Boyce, a "re-gifted" kidney saved her life.

After nine years of waiting for a kidney transplant, Boyce got a call from Dr. Jeffery Veale, the director of the UCLA Kidney Transplantation Exchange Program.

"There was a teenage girl who died tragically and her family donated a kidney to a young man in his 20s," Veale explained in a press release. "Two years after his kidney transplant, he died in a motor vehicle accident."

So Veale came to Boyce with the idea of re-transplanting the kidney Beto Maldonado received before he died in a wreck.

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Vertis Boyce (left) looks at family photos with Eva Maldonado (right), the mother of her donor, Beto Maldonado. The recipient of a kidney transplant in 2015, Beto Maldonado died in a car accident in July 2017, and his family re-donated, or “re-gifted” his organ. The re-transplantation, an extremely rare procedure, was made possible by transplant surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Veale at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. His family says Beto would have wanted to give someone else the same second chance at life he received.

Normally, Veale explained, people either get a kidney from a living donor or are placed on the waiting list to receive a deceased donor kidney. Unfortunately, people spend years on the United Network for Organ Sharing kidney transplant waiting list and, according to a release, 13 people on the list die each day.

However, Veale said of those who do receive a transplant, about 20 to 25 percent end up dying (of causes unrelated to their transplant) with a functioning kidney.

So with more than 100,000 people waiting for kidney transplants, Veale says this idea of "re-gifting" kidneys could potentially save hundreds of lives each year.

"We really haven't been taking those kidneys and re-transplanting them or re-gifting them, which is a shame because it might be a 20-year-old original donor, and that kidney gets transplanted into somebody who's maybe 65 years old, and then a year later they have a stroke and are brain dead," Veale said.

In the past, doctors have been hesitant to "re-gift" kidneys because it was unclear how well the organ would function after going through two death events.

But Veale said all three of the patients who received "re-gifted" kidneys through UCLA "have functioned beautifully."

"All three patients are off dialysis, traveling, enjoying life," he added.

Linda Maldonado told UCLA Health that they hadn't thought about donating her brother's kidney until a health care provider mentioned it.

“We just thought, ‘They gave him that gift, why … not give that gift to somebody? Why not help another family if we can?’” Linda said in a press release.

And for Boyce, that decision gave her the gift of a longer life.

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Dr. Jeffrey Veale (middle) meets with the family of Beto Maldonado (left and center) and with Vertis Boyce (right). Veale performed a rare kidney re-transplantation procedure at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in which a formerly donated kidney was donated again, saving yet another life. He wants to see this become a standard procedure in transplant medicine, potentially saving hundreds of lives each year.

Veale said he hopes more doctors look at these three cases and see that re-transplanting these high quality, original donor kidneys can save lives.

"I think it would be great if, obviously, if this expanded to more and more kidney transplant recipients, but maybe it could expand into other organs," Veale said.

Veale added that he's already talked to one of the top liver transplant surgeons who was considering trying a similar approach to liver transplants.

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