Mary Coyle and her husband Ed Coyle had run out of options. She had asked her brother for a kidney 23 years ago and she received it. A few years ago however she needed to replace it and was getting sicker by the day.
"We just assumed somebody from the family could donate," she said. "When that couldn't happen or didn't happen, then we had to step out of our comfort zone. It required Ed to say, 'I'll donate one to a stranger and you'll receive one from a stranger.'"
Through Christiana Hospital's 10-year-old kidney transplant program, the Wilmington, Delaware couple learned about paired donation.
Through paired donation, a friend, loved one or a family member of a candidate in need of a new kidney who doesn't have a compatible blood type can donate a kidney to a complete stranger on the candidate's behalf. This allows the donor's loved one to move up significantly on the list to receive a new kidney of their own from another stranger. The donor also moves up to the top of the list in case they ever need a new kidney of their own in the future.
Ed decided to give his own kidney to a stranger in order to help save his wife.
“There’s a selfish motivation there too," he said. "Having a happy, healthy wife makes my life a lot more pleasant and enjoyable.”
Now the couple wants to make sure other people in need of kidneys are aware of the paired donation option.
"In fact the reason we agreed to this interview is not so much because I want to say I'm a wonderful guy," Ed said. "The fact is, there are 100,000 people in this country currently waiting for a kidney transplant."
There is a lack of deceased donors which means that the wait time is getting longer, according to Dr. John Swanson of the Christiana Care Kidney Transplant Program, a group that helps families on both ends of the process and shows you how to talk to loved ones about donating.
Dr. Swanson performed both Ed and Mary’s transplant surgeries.
“We encourage living donations for all our patients. It shortens their wait times, the time of the transplant and keeps them off dialysis potentially,” Dr. Swanson said.
"Right now the requirements for a living donor are willingness, excellent health, and after that it doesn't matter if you're blood type compatible or tissue type compatible, because we can find a living donor for you."
Mary received a kidney from a man in California named Jason, who donated on behalf of his sister. Ed's healthy kidney was rushed to a sick grandmother out west. While normally donors and recipients don't meet, the Coyles met the donor and recipient for dinner in California in June.
Mary told NBC10 she is thankful for what her husband did for her as well as the two people who gave their kidneys so that she could live.
"My brother is over here and Jason's over here, and they're always with me," Mary said while pointing to her kidneys. "And I don't have a day that I don't think about them."
If you or a loved one are in need of a kidney and one of you is willing to donate a healthy one, talk to your doctor about paired donation. You can also visit the National Kidney Registry website for more information.