Advance with MUSC Health

Through One Selfless Act, Living Donor Kidney Transplant Chain Saves Two Lives, Forever Connecting All Four Participants

Advance With MUSC Health
September 08, 2022
Kristen McLaurin, Jasmine Porterfield, Keith West, and Preston McLaurin.

When Keith West, 65, discovered that his dear friend since 6th grade needed a kidney, he didn't hesitate to volunteer his. The friend, based in Myrtle Beach, was matched with someone else before Keith was cleared to donate, but he was undeterred. He still wanted to help someone, even if that someone was a complete stranger.

"I told MUSC at that time, once my friend had the new kidney for three months, I would be happy to donate to someone who was a good match," says Keith, who lives in Fort Washington, Maryland. "I felt like just because you don't know someone doesn't mean they're in any less need."

Through one selfless act, a four-person kidney transplant chain began, saving two lives, and forever connecting four.

A living donor chain begins when an altruistic donor donates out of the goodness of their heart. Their kidney recipient is someone who had a willing but incompatible donor, usually a friend or a family member. That donor then volunteers to give to someone else, and so on. The chain creates opportunities for infinite recipient-donor pairings.

Teresa Rice, M.D. 
Teresa Rice, M.D.

"Over 90,000 people in the country need a kidney transplant, but annually there are less than 16,000 kidneys available from deceased donors," says Dr. Teresa Rice, the MUSC Health surgeon who performed the surgeries for this particular living donor kidney transplant chain. "Our Transplant Center just gives us an opportunity to help more people who are in need."

By coming forward as an altruistic donor, Keith was matched with a perfect stranger, Preston McLaurin, 67, who had been waiting for a kidney match for 18 months.

"I've lived a very fortunate life. I've been healthy, so this is my way of paying it forward," Keith says. "It's really an opportunity to give somebody a better quality of life."

Preston, from Columbia, S.C, saw his quality of life begin to deteriorate in October 2021. A diabetic, he has dealt with his share of kidney issues over the last decade, but it wasn't until a few years ago that he was diagnosed with kidney disease — and later still that he began to have complications. Then in January, he had to go on home dialysis.

Preston is retired and active in community theatre but nine hours a night on dialysis put that fun on hold. "When you're on dialysis, it's an every night thing," he said. "You can't travel because you'd have to carry so many supplies. You adapt to it, but your quality of life takes a pretty big hit."

When Preston's nephrologist said he needed a new kidney, his wife wanted to be his donor. But when that fell through, their daughter, Kristen McLaurin, stepped up, insistent on donating.

Keith West and Preston McLaurin 
Keith West and Preston McLaurin

"I remember very clearly the night I found out my mom was no longer eligible," she says. "I pushed, I said, ‘You have to let me do it.' That was what I wanted to do from the beginning anyway, and that was what we needed to do as a family."

Kristen, 30, had already seen her father miss out on so much. Just weeks before, she, a University of South Carolina post-doctoral fellow doing neuroscience work, had spoken at a conference in Minneapolis, her proud mother in the audience. Preston was heartbroken to miss cheering on his daughter, the nuisance of dialysis keeping him tethered to home.

As it turns out, Kristen wasn't a match for her father but was still willing to help someone else in need, and so the living donor chain began to take shape. From there, it didn't take long for all of the pieces to fall into place. Kristen still remembers getting the call that they'd both been matched — a surgery date was set.

"Just that morning, I had thought to myself, "What does my dad want for Father's Day?'," she remembers. "And the only thing I knew he wanted was a kidney, something that was challenging and I had no control over. Yet here I was talking about having surgery the weeks right around Father's Day, so it was such a special moment."

What made it even more special? Kristen was matched with Jasmine Porterfield, a woman almost the same age — 32 — who lives about two miles away from her. After seeing what her dad went through, Kristen could only imagine the limitations — going to work, having a family, traveling — advanced kidney disease would mean for someone like herself.

Like Kristen, Jasmine is from Columbia and has a supportive, close-knit family, including two brothers and a sister. Jasmine has already been through unimaginable trauma, being pregnant during stage five lupus in 2019 and then losing her son in 2020. She also began dialysis in February of 2020, traveling to the clinic three days a week to spend 3.5-hours a day on dialysis.

After almost two-and-a-half years of waiting for a kidney, Jasmine finally caught a break when she was matched with Kristen. Going into the surgery, she says, she was completely fearless. "I remember going in the operating room and I was like, ‘All right, let's get this started. Let the games begin!'"

Kristen McLaurin and Jasmine Porterfield embrace in a hug after Kristen became an MUSC Health living donor when she gave her kidney to Jasmine. 
Living donor Kristen McLaurin and recipient Jasmine Porterfield embrace in a hug.

It was also a joyous occasion because she would get to meet everyone else in the chain — Keith, who made this chain possible, and Preston, whose need for a kidney prompted his daughter to donate, giving Jasmine her new kidney. When they rang the bell together, Jasmine recalls asking for one more thing from Kristen: a hug.

"Because when you give somebody a second chance at life, you don't know what that means," she says. "You relieve pain. You relieve stress and worry. You relieve a whole lot. You give that person another chance at life."

As for her time at MUSC, Jasmine describes it as amazing.

"They answered every question, even during the waiting process. They still call and have a great turnaround time with callbacks," she says. "During my hospital stay, the staff was great. They were supportive; they made the patient feel as comfortable as they could be after having surgery."

Her donor, Kristen, agrees. "The nice thing about MUSC is that they take a holistic approach — at least from the donor perspective — to make sure that your physical health is top priority but also that your mental and emotional health are top priority, too."

New to Charleston, this was transplant surgeon Dr. Rice's first living donor chain since joining MUSC Health. "It is a great privilege to provide care to those in need, but an even greater one to facilitate a gift as precious as a living donor kidney. To witness an act that selfless is truly amazing. Watching the decision of one donor, link together an entire cascade for those desperate for a second chance, is astounding. It's very special to be a part of the MUSC living donor team that is committed to patient safety and positive outcomes."

As for the participants, they're all recovering well post-surgery. Keith's friend since childhood — the inspiration for his donation — was actually his caregiver in the days following his surgery. Now that he's good as new, he looks back on his experience with fondness. "I can kind of view it as having been a journey, but it was a very positive journey and I would certainly do it again," he says.

Looking back on the past few months, Preston is grateful and looks forward to deepening the special connection with his donor. "It was very humbling," he says. "I mean, to have a good samaritan totally out of the blue offer a good kidney. I'm planning some follow-up conversations because I really would like to know Keith better."

As a recipient, he hopes others consider living donation. "I'm not going to suggest to you that it was easy in any way, because I think that diminishes the experience a little bit, but it was nothing to be afraid of. I felt really confident in the care, the skills of surgeons, and the support system. It was easy to trust the process."

Kristen McLaurin (left) and Jasmine Porterfield (right) 
Kristen McLaurin and Jasmine Porterfield

As a donor, Kristen hopes for the same. "It's a feeling that's hard to put into words," she says. "It's a gift that I'm incredibly grateful I was able to give. You have two kidneys and you need one, so from a very logical perspective that I often approach life with, it made sense. But also from the ability to help someone else, there was just no question."

To learn more about MUSC Health's organ transplant services, visit the Transplant Center website or call 843-792-5097 to make an appointment. To register as a kidney donor, please complete the kidney donor form. To register as a liver donor, please complete the liver donor form.