With over 90,000 people in the United States awaiting a kidney transplant, there are not enough organs available to meet the need. A loved one is usually the first person patients turn to for a kidney donation, but not every couple is the perfect match – at least when it comes to organ donations.
A new kidney swap program is changing all that – along with the lives of two Houston-area families.
The idea behind kidney swaps is relatively simple. If Donor A isn't a match for Recipient A but is a match for Recipient B, and vice versa, then a swap can occur. Donor A gives to Recipient B, and Donor B gives to Recipient A. This process considerably expands the pool of potential donors, essentially creating a life-saving chain that weaves its way through the transplant community, enabling more transplants than would otherwise be possible.
At Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center (TMC), two couples, each touched by kidney disease, made the decision to participate in a kidney swap. Jackie and Marvis Killingsworth of Cypress, Texas, and Lindsey and Jentry Camp of Magnolia, Texas, are examples of the power of kidney swaps, and the profound connection made between donors and recipients.
Jackie Killingsworth and her husband, Marvis, both 59, have been married 35 years and grew up in the same town of Meridian, Miss. They have a 27-year-old son named Alex. Marvis’ family has a history of polycystic kidney disease (PKD), which is a genetic disorder that causes many fluid-filled cysts to grow in the kidneys. His mother and five of her brothers had kidney transplants. He was told at a young age, just 21 years old, that he might also need a transplant someday. After several years of monitoring his kidney disease with doctors, he began dialysis in September 2020.
“He developed more polyps on his kidney and was in and out of the hospital and emergency room due to the kidney functions. He had high blood pressure, joint pain, his vision worsened, and he wasn’t able to urinate properly. Some polyps were burst along the way. We decided it was time to stop trying to put a Band-Aid® on,” said Jackie.
With a successful kidney transplant, Marvis could have a chance at a healthier life, escaping the grueling cycle of dialysis and hospital visits. In February 2021, Jackie was tested to see if she could be a match. “I had gone through my first full evaluation and found out I was a match! I didn’t even know that was an option for us,” said Jackie.
She went through an interview process in August 2021, and they found her at high risk for the surgery due to her having gestational diabetes during her pregnancy in 1995. “Everything just dropped. They said that if I donated a kidney then I’d have a higher chance of diabetes,” Jackie said.
So, Marvis continued his hemodialysis three times a week until they got another call six months later. With the New Year, Jackie was asked to be re-evaluated at the new transplant department at Memorial Hermann.
“I met with Dr. Hassan Ibrahim, the director of the nephrology transplant program at Memorial Hermann-TMC and his nurse practitioner, Hana Nguyen, for them to explain the process. I got started on this evaluation in June 2022. It was a total day and night experience from the last evaluation,” said Jackie. “Then in August 2022, I was told we were going to surgery in September 28, 2022. I was excited that my husband wouldn’t have to do dialysis three times a week.”
Jackie prepared herself for this undertaking, mentally and physically bracing for the challenges ahead.
“Hana was just the wealth of information! She was energetic and positive, explaining to me the processes in bloodwork and nutrition. She stayed in the room with me while Dr. Ibrahim told me some things I needed to work on before the surgery,” said Jackie.
But the path to transplant wouldn’t be so straightforward. While Jackie was confirmed to be a match for Marvis, there could be an even better match out there with a higher likelihood of acceptance, if they were willing to participate in a kidney swap program. Hana presented this option to her on September 8, just a few weeks before the scheduled surgery.
“Hana had always said that if they found a better match, they’d go with the better match. She explained that they had found another couple, and the husband tested negative as a donor for his wife, but he was a perfect match for my husband. The height and weight matched better. And turns out, I was a perfect match for his wife,” said Jackie. I called her back after my husband and I talked over the weekend. We told her yes! And the way she responded was none other like it in the world. I knew it was the right thing.”
Rules of the kidney swap didn’t permit either couple knowing details about the other patients involved, but Jackie said she knew all she needed to make the decision. She knew it would save the life of another woman – a mother of two – and keep their family together. Despite them being strangers, Jackie took a leap of faith and decided to move forward with a kidney swap.
“I was excited knowing that this husband was going to get his wife back. I felt blessed with the opportunity to be able to share life,” said Jackie.
The woman receiving Jackie’s kidney was Lindsey Camp, 43. She and her husband, Jentry, 45, have been married 18 years and have two children, ages 12 and 16. Unlike Marvis, the diagnosis of kidney disease was a shock for Lindsey.
“I’ve been healthy my whole life, then in 2016 I went for a dental cleaning and my blood pressure was high – in the 200s! I saw a doctor who referred me to a nephrologist. That’s when they found I had kidney disease,” said Lindsey. “My blood pressure was causing my kidney failure.”
After two years of trial-and-error of medications to control her blood pressure, her nephrologist gave her the frightening news in 2018 that she would need a kidney transplant.
“I saw this nephrologist regularly and got on the transplant list. A year after that I got on at-home dialysis, with a machine at home. They had to put a port on my abdomen, and during my sleep schedule for eight hours every night, it would run the dialysis. I did that for three years every night. I have two active children in sports year-round, and I always had to be at home in time to do dialysis,” said Lindsey.
In 2019, she switched to Memorial Hermann due to a change in insurance and began seeing Dr. Amanda Basford, MD, as her nephrologist. As her condition progressively worsened, everyday tasks turned into uphill battles. Lindsey found herself constantly grappling with fatigue, struggling to muster the energy required to get through the day.
“I tried to feel good, but I didn’t have any energy. I could barely walk from the parking lot to a building without getting winded. I passed out on two occasions because my hemoglobin was so low,” said Lindsey.
Her condition began to take a toll, making it increasingly difficult for her to fully engage with her family or enjoy personal time. It was during this challenging time that she was placed on the transplant list at Memorial Hermann. Lindsey's introduction to the kidney swap program offered a ray of hope in what had become a tough, grueling journey.
“In September 2022, my husband had a standard appointment and asked if he was still ready to give a kidney. Within the next two days, they explained the situation to him about the kidney swap. That following Monday, we got a call and they said the other couple was good to do this,” explained Lindsey.
The program offered Lindsey a glimmer of hope, a chance to regain the vitality and energy that her illness had slowly taken away. Her situation was unique because pregnancy causes immunological changes due to antibodies produced that lower the chance of success in father-to-mother kidney transplants.
“I was so happy I would find a match. I have a lot of antibodies, so it was hard for them to find a good match. I was so excited about it; I wasn’t nervous at all. I just wanted to feel normal and have energy. I am a mother of two active kids in sports, and I want them to know me as I used to be.”
The dates were now set. The surgeries for Marvis and Jentry were scheduled September 26, 2022, and Jackie and Lindsey were scheduled two days later. Each surgery took a little over three hours.
Dr. Steve Bynon Jr, MD, performed Lindsey’s surgery. “The day after the surgery, they already had me getting up and walking around,” said Lindsey. “I was sore even with the pain meds. I added more movement as I recovered. I was there three days before being released home. It was a good six weeks before going back to work with recovery time.”
Lindsey said she healed quickly and didn’t have any complications. Within two months, she started feeling like herself again.
“The whole experience with Memorial Hermann was great. I loved my doctors. The transplant staff were amazing, especially the nurses. Everything was how they’d explained it would be. I felt well taken care of. I felt like I have a relationship with my doctors, including Dr. [Hassan] Ibrahim, who took time to explain it all to me,” said Lindsey.
Meanwhile, Dr. David Hall, MD, performed Jackie’s surgery. “He was amazing! His bedside manner, everything, he just was terrific. He eased all the nerves. That team of folks was so attentive. I was admitted on September 27th and discharged on September 30th, and the surgery went well. Two weeks after surgery, I was able to do almost normal things,” said Jackie.
All four recoveries went well and the kidneys started working for both Marvis and Lindsey immediately.
“It’s been an adjustment for Marvis, because he was in a routine,” said Jackie. “For example, he could only consume one liter of water a day before, and now he could drink as much water as he wants to! So many times, I’ve heard him say ‘Oh! I can have that now!’ He can have ketchup on his fries now, and now he can have fries. It’s my pleasure to watch him get stronger and healthier and live life again. There was so much we couldn’t do because of the limits. We couldn’t really travel. Those chains have been broken.”
Jackie says they are planning to go on an Alaskan cruise as soon as doctors give him the all-clear.
Meantime, Lindsey also found herself living a life revitalized by the transplant. Her daily routine is no longer being dictated by her health constraints. She has newfound energy to keep up with her teenagers’ bustling lives, including attending her daughter’s basketball games and her son’s baseball and football games, and cheering them on without getting tired.
“I have energy. I am able to keep up with my kids. My hemoglobin is normal, so I don’t feel weak. It affects so many things – like when I had the kidney disease, my phosphorous was high, and that caused itchiness on the skin and sores. All of that has gone away. It’s a night and day difference,” said Lindsey.
Even the smaller joys, like relishing her favorite cheese again, something she couldn’t eat before due to her phosphorous levels. “I also had high potassium, so I couldn’t eat bananas. I couldn’t eat beans. Some stuff that you thought was healthy, you were restricted from. It was a boring diet; it was bland. I’ve loved getting back to my favorite food again,” said Lindsey.
Through this chain of events, the kidney swap program not only saved the lives of their significant others, they found a new family in each other. After their respective surgeries, both couples met in person for the first time.
“When I first met Jackie, it was instant love,” said Lindsey. “It was an emotional meeting. We shared the same experience. Just knowing we were helping each other was such a blessing. We’ve gone out to dinner together, and stayed in touch via text. They’re like family now.”
Jackie agrees. “We are sisters and brothers from other mothers. Just knowing we have new family is beyond what words can express.”
And when Jackie saw Jentry for the first time, she knew Memorial Hermann made the right decision. “When I saw her husband, his build, I knew it was a perfect kidney for Marvis. The transplant team did such a great job.”
“[Jackie] knew she was a match for her husband, and then to switch up and agree to donate to a stranger instead of her husband. For her to make that decision, it takes a very special person. She’s a saint for doing that, and we immediately had an instant life-long connection,” said Lindsey.
The two families meet as often as possible and plan to continue to be in each other’s lives.
Life after the kidney swap has not only been a period of recuperation and renewed vitality for both families, but it also sparked a shared purpose. Jackie, Marvis, Lindsey, Jentry and their families have become vocal advocates for raising awareness about kidney diseases and the enormous potential organ donation has to save and improve lives.
By sharing their personal stories and experiences, they are working tirelessly to demystify the process of kidney swaps and organ donation.
“One thing I want people to know is that if you do have a loved one who is in this cycle of kidney disease, don’t hesitate to ask if you’re a match. I had no idea that I could have tests run to see if I could be a match for my husband. Don’t let those reservations take hold and paralyze you, if you have the opportunity to help. Just do it,” said Jackie.
Their journey has not just resulted in improved health and quality of life for them but also serves as a beacon of hope for countless others navigating the same path.
“For anyone who has kidney disease or kidney issues, my advice would be to go the transplant route rather than dialysis the rest of your life,” said Lindsey. “Your quality of life will be better; you’ll feel whole again and healthy. The word transplant sounds so scary, but once you’re educated on it, you’re able to get through it.”
By shedding light on the transformative power of kidney swaps, these patient stories help illuminate the way for many others, demonstrating that better health and a more fulfilling life are indeed within reach, even in the face of challenging health conditions.
“Through the hospital, we’ve had opportunities to get our stories out there. We’ve spoken to about 250 medical students about it,” said Lindsey.
Lindsey also has some advice for others looking to make the swap. “For the recipient, I would say – definitely do not give up. It seems so tiring and long, but the reward is so much greater. For anyone who wants to donate, it’s such an unbelievable program. You’re in excellent hands with the doctors at Memorial Hermann. Being able to help a family or individual, the reward certainly outweighs anything else.”