HOUSTON (October 13, 2008)

Carey Barrett was looking for a way to help people, a way to make a difference. On Oct. 13, Barrett traveled from his home in Fayetteville, Ga., to Houston, where he would donate one of his kidneys to a perfect stranger, Brenda Chapa.

More than 75,000 people in the United States are waiting for a kidney transplant. Eleven of them die every day. Chapa had gone through 10 potential donors, when she learned that Barrett was a match.

In simultaneous surgeries performed at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center on Oct. 15, transplant surgeons Charles Van Buren, MD, director of the division of Immunology and Organ Transplantation, at the University of Texas (UT) Medical School at Houston and Stephen Katz, MD, associate professor in the division of Immunology and Organ Transplantation at the UT Medical School at Houston directly changed two lives and indirectly affected many others.

Barrett has always been listed as a potential organ donor on his driver's license, but after watching a television news segment about an organization known as the Alliance for Paired Donation (APD), he decided to become part of a unique way to become an organ donor.

APD has developed what it calls NEAD Chains - Never Ending Altruistic Donor Chains - meaning someone gets an organ and someone else turns around and becomes a donor to someone else. According to the NEAD, one altruistic donor, who is someone who wants to donate a kidney to a person in need, gives a kidney to someone who is suffering from kidney failure.

Unlike the conventional form of organ donation, the cascade does not end there. The first donor who was incompatible and could not give a kidney to the original recipient of the altruistic donation, in turn gives his kidney to someone else with whom he is compatible. The second recipient's incompatible donor can then do the same, and the cascading donor chain continues.

Because the donors are giving to someone not in their original circle, it is called an altruistic donor chain. If that chain of donors continues and never stops, it is never ending. Since Barrett donated his kidney to Chapa, her sister-in-law (who was not a match for Chapa) will donate to another complete stranger.

"Donating a kidney to a stranger is an example of the selfless generosity that is the best part of what makes us human," said Dr. Van Buren.

More About Carey Barrett

Barrett is a Principal Associate in Process Design for Biomedical Services Collections, working for Biomedical Headquarters under Senior Director of Collections Pat Demaris. He and his wife, Monique, have two children - son Caleb, 17, and daughter Alexia, 15. In addition to his Red Cross duties, he and his wife teach ballroom dance. A member of the community theatre in Fairburn, Ga., he labels himself an "acting hack."

"It's fun and keeps you busy," he said. "It's a good way to get involved in your community." In December, Barrett will have served the Red Cross for 12 years. A Canada native, he is a clinical microbiologist, receiving his education at the University of Saskatchewan.

Photo by Scott Holmes - The University of Texas Medical School