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For Pam Hough, National Donate Life Month has special meaning. Actually, every month since December has been especially meaningful for this 57-year-old Newton grandmother thanks to a lifesaving transplant aided by an innovative technique called plasmapheresis.
Hough, accustomed to taking long walks, playing tennis and traveling, came down with nosebleeds and fatigue two years ago. “I thought I just had the flu and some trouble getting over it,” Hough said.
It wasn't just a cold or even the flu. Hough had developed renal failure likely from infection and obstruction, started dialysis and became a candidate to receive a kidney transplant. But with a high level of donor organ-rejecting antibodies in her type O blood, Hough was an unlikely match for a kidney and faced a very long wait on the organ donation list.
Her 38-year-old son, Scott, a former professional football player, was in excellent health and very committed to donating a kidney to his mother. However, there were two major barriers: first, he and his mother had incompatible blood groups and, second, Pam Hough was highly sensitized as she had developed a lot of antibodies against proteins important in transplantation.
Doctors at BWH used a protocol involving plasmapheresis and anti-rejection drugs to remove Hough's antibodies against incompatible blood groups and against transplant antigens.
Plasmapheresis was performed for several weeks in the dialysis unit, both before and after the transplant.
In December, Hough became BWH's first recipient of a kidney transplanted across incompatible blood types. Four days before Christmas, Hough received a kidney from her 38-year-old son. The kidney has functioned extremely well.
“She's done extremely well and her risk of major problems now is low, but we still need to monitor her closely,” said nephrologist Colm C. Magee, MD, Medical Director of Renal Transplantation. The above protocol is not suitable for everyone, he stressed.
“Unique strategies like this are good solutions for the occasional case like Mrs. Hough's,” Magee said.
Magee credited Hough and BWH's Dialysis Unit for the intense plasmapheresis sessions to strip her blood of the organ-rejecting antibodies.
“I started with the dialysis three times a week, and I would feel horrible just trying to make it to the car,” Hough said.
But now, four months after her transplant, she and her son are doing well, and Pam Hough is even contemplating a trip to Florida to visit her kidney donor, a former offensive lineman for the New Orleans Saints. She and her husband also may travel to her family's ranch in Houston, and a trip to a Caribbean island may be in the offing.
“What a difference. I can't believe I'm 57. I feel so much younger,” she declared.
To find out more about organ and tissue donation, visit www.neob.org