KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- The first paired kidney exchange in the Kansas City area happened on Wednesday. A Kansas woman gave a kidney to a stranger. In return, that person had a loved one who donated a kidney to the Kansas woman's husband.
On Tuesday, Vicki Harvey-Lovato and her husband, Carlos Lovato, checked into the University of Kansas Hospital. They were hoping it was the beginning of the end of a nightmare.
"It's been a real nightmare. I watched him almost die three times," she said.
Her husband almost died from complications of kidney failure. Married for 40 years, the Andover, Kansas couple is a match in every way except one.
"She was A positive and I was O negative," said Carlos Lovato, referring to their blood types.
Harvey-Lovato couldn't give her husband one of her kidneys. So she put a sign on her car, hoping to find a living donor because the wait was so long for a deceased donor. Then they heard about paired kidney exchanges.
"I would give up my kidney to another couple and they would give up theirs to us. And we felt we need to do this," said Harvey-Lovato.
Through a national registry, a match was found.
"Now it's really come down to where she's become my hero," said Carlos Lovato.
Early Wednesday morning, Harvey-Lovato donated one of her kidneys to a stranger on the East Coast. At about the same time, that stranger's loved one donated a kidney for Carlos Lovato. It is the 43rd paired kidney exchange in the United States this year, but the first ever for a Kansas City hospital and the Midwest Transplant Network's region.
Harvey-Lovato's precious gift was carefully cooled and packed for a ride to Kansas City International Airport, and then onto a commercial flight. The kidney was kept in the cockpit. The kidney from the East Coast was flown the same way here. Carlos Lovato's transplant and the one on the east coast are happening Wednesday evening.
"So you're saving two lives and you're affecting two families," said Harvey-Lovato.
Her husband thinks the awareness created by their story will result in many more transplants.
"She'll probably save 81,000 lives because maybe people will realize that you can do so much more if you really want to," he said.
You can give a kidney to a stranger and, in turn, save a loved one's life.
Eventually, the Lovatos may be able to meet the other pair involved in this kidney exchange.