(CBS) — Lee Jenkins suffered from kidney failure for years.
“I didn’t know if I was going to live or die,” he recalls.
His wife, Loretta Jenkins, came forward to donate. She wasn’t a match but agreed to be part of Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Kidney Pair Donation Program.
She would end up a match for Steven Boone, whom she met for the first time on Friday.
“Thank you isn’t enough to express our gratitude for saving my life,” Boone said as he hugged Jenkins. “You have no idea what this means to someone who has been on dialysis or who has done everything humanly possible to maintain their health.”
Lee Jenkins would end up getting the kidney of Leo Tripolitakis, who wasn’t a match for his own wife, Patti.
“Leo saved my life and I love him for it,” Jenkins says.
The chain continued, as Tripolitakis’ wife Patti ended up getting a kidney from Donna Spans, who wasn’t a match for her nephew, Kevin Condreva.
“I feel like I’m looking at a part of me,” Spans said. “I learned that she doesn’t live that far from me, so I can go visit my kidney any time.”
“We’ll have lunch. We’ll have kidney dates,” she said, hugging Patti Trioloitakis.
“She’s my angel. She saved my life. Leo, I can’t say enough for donating because that led me to Donna,” said Patti Tripolitakis.
Spans’ nephew, Condreva, received a kidney from an anonymous donor, which began the chain.
“There’s someone who’s not here — that’s the person who gave the most amazing gift and started this chain off,” said John Friedewald, Northwestern Medicine nephrologist. “This was a person who came to us and said, ‘I want to help someone else out, I want to give someone my kidney to save someone’s life,’ and that match ended up being Kevin.”
In all, four donors and four recipients who all met for the first time on Friday.
“In the past, we had to say, ‘I’m sorry you can’t get a transplant, you’ll have to wait for a deceased donor kidney, which could take five years of waiting on dialysis,” the physician says. “But through our kidney pair donation program, we can find these matches and find these transplants much sooner and from a living donor, which tends to be more successful and lasts longer.”
The simultaneous surgeries took place over the course of two days in June.
The four donors and four recipients say they are thrilled to now have an extended family.
“When I knew my husband Leo needed a kidney to continue his life, it was a no-brainer, I sprang into action. I would do it again. If I had a third kidney, I would do it again,” Loretta Jenkins said.
Friedewald says the hospital is always looking for matches.
“We have a computer program that can have anywhere from 30 to 40 pairs of incompatible donors and recipients, so we are constantly looking for new matches,” he said.
“We’re tied together forever,” Spans said.