|Alonda LeCounte and Cecil Deas
Over a 6-day period in December
2009, Georgetown University
and Washington Hospital
Center completed what is thought to be the largest kidney
exchange in history. Thirteen
donors each gave a kidney to 13 recipients. For Alonda LeCounte, a management analyst
with NIAID’s Division of Intramural Research and one of the donors involved in this historic
exchange, it was an opportunity
to give a better life to someone she loved.
Her stepfather, Cecil Deas, had recently started kidney dialysis—a treatment that demands hours of being hooked up to a machine and costs up to $80,000 a year. LeCounte asked Deas, “What do we have to do to get you off dialysis?”
LeCounte and her sister were both tested as potential kidney donors, but neither was a match. Upon receiving her test results, LeCounte was asked whether she would be willing to participate in a “living pair program,” in which she would donate a kidney to a stranger for whom she was a match, and Deas would receive a kidney from a different, matching donor.
“I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought,” says LeCounte. “I just thought it was the right thing to do.”
Over her stepfather’s protestations about the impact on her own health, LeCounte agreed to donate. Just after Thanksgiving, LeCounte received word that an exchange had been set up including her as a donor and Deas as a recipient. They underwent surgery in early December. In a matter of months, the exchange was able to accomplish what often takes years for people on the organ transplant waiting list.
LeCounte’s kidney went to Chris Conte, a 49-year-old single father of four from Frederick, Md., who was spending 10 hours a day on dialysis. He’s looking forward to folding his own clothes and putting his own socks away—a reminder of the little things so often overlooked in the daily grind. Deas received a kidney from a matching anonymous donor and has been able to stop dialysis.
“To give hope to strangers and do something good for someone you love at the same time is the greatest gift,” says LeCounte.