Football Fans Team Up for Organ Match

Random stadium seat assignment leads to lifesaving transplant surgery

In October 2013, Louis Munoz donated one of his kidneys to William Lynch. The organ match would not have occurred without a bit of serendipity and a big love of football. Munoz and Lynch had been childhood friends, but hadn’t seen each other in years – then they found themselves randomly seated next to each other at a Chargers game.

“Louis and I knew each other as kids and then lost touch. Years later, by surprise, we ended up sitting right next to each other at Chargers games,” said William, a middle school teacher. “When I started missing games, Louis asked me why and I explained that due to kidney complications, I’d been unwell. His wife half-jokingly suggested that he give me a kidney.”

Louis immediately volunteered to be tested as a possible donor. William initially declined his friend’s offer, believing another donor would come through. But when that didn’t happen, Louis followed through and proved to be a match.

“I am so blessed that Louis has chosen to give me this new lease on life,” said William. “I can’t express to him how grateful I am. I promised Louis I will take care of this kidney the best that I can.”

Prior to the transplant surgery, William had been on dialysis, a treatment option to filter the blood and rid the body of harmful wastes and excess salt and water. Dialysis is a tough regimen that requires a patient to be tethered to a machine three to four times per week for hours at a time.

Drs. Alan Hemming, Santiago Horgan and Kristin Mekeel performed the lifesaving surgery in side-by-side operating rooms.

“I had been on dialysis for more than two years. Mentally and physically it was the hardest part I had to endure,” said William whose kidney failure was caused by a rare disease that attacks the organ’s filtering system. “Getting off of dialysis is wonderful.”

William and Louis had their surgeries performed at UC San Diego Health System, which boasts the region’s largest kidney transplant program. The program has performed more than 2,270 kidney transplants. Approximately 35 percent of the donations come from living donors.

“In San Diego, of all the people waiting for an organ transplant, more than 85 percent need a kidney,” said Alan Hemming, MD, transplant surgeon, UC San Diego Health System. “Living donors can dramatically shorten the time to wait for a donated kidney. The gift is truly lifesaving.”

Currently, there are more than 770 patients at UC San Diego Health System awaiting a kidney transplant. Nearly 98,000 people in the United States are on kidney transplant wait lists, including 17,784 in California. The average wait for a kidney from a deceased donor is typically six years in San Diego and ten years in Los Angeles.

The transplant surgery was performed in two phases in adjacent operating rooms. In one room, the kidney was carefully removed from Louis; in the second, it was transplanted into William.

William and Louis have both fully recovered and are enjoying the New Year.

Santiago Horgan, MD, chief of minimally invasive surgery at UC San Diego Health System, removed the kidney aided by a robot. With robotic guidance, the vessels of the kidney were precisely isolated and the kidney was removed with less trauma. And because smaller incisions were made, the risk of subsequent pain was also reduced. Hemming then transplanted the removed kidney into William during a two-hour procedure.

“I am excited for William,” said Louis. “I think the decision to donate is pretty simple. I don’t think too much about it – just a little inconvenience to help somebody out who really needs it.”

Living kidney donors and potential recipients are matched by blood type (A, B, O, AB) and tissue-typing; physical size and age are also taken into consideration. Gender and ethnicity are not factors in matching patients. William is African-American while Louis is Hispanic.

“I am elated and so grateful to Louis and my beautiful UC San Diego team who takes care of me,” said Louis. “I am ready to go back to teaching.”

Members of William’s UC San Diego Health System team included: Kristin Mekeel, MD, Scott Mullaney, MD, Mita Shah, MD, Alejandra Munoz, living donor assistant, Chris Hines, social worker, and Sandy Heisterkamp, RN, living donor transplant coordinator.

Lifesharing, a division of UC San Diego Health System, is the federally-designated, non-profit organ and tissue recovery organization serving San Diego. People can register to be a donor at the DMV or at www.donateLIFEcalifornia.org or www.doneVIDAcalifornia.org in Spanish.

To learn more about being a living donor, visit www.livingdonationcalifornia.org or contact the UC San Diego Health System kidney transplant program at 619-574-8612.

Media Contact

Jackie Carr, 619-543-6163, jcarr@ucsd.edu