If you've ever had a loved one in need of an organ donation, you know finding a donor can be difficult. And, in some cases, a donor isn't found in time. But a new national program is changing that scenario.
Travis Beasley and his wife love traveling, but three years ago they had to slow down.
"You start dragging, thinking 'What is wrong?' It just takes a lot out of you," Beasley said.
Diabetes left him in kidney failure, and in 2011 he went on dialysis.
"When I first started dialysis I thought I was dying," Beasley said. "I had a tough time with it."
His family and friends underwent testing to see if they could donate a kidney, but no one was a match.
Nearly three years passed, and then the couple heard of kidney paired donation.
Dr. Rachel Forbes, in the Division of Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says kidneys are exchanged between pairs through a national registry. That way, several compatible living donors can undergo the life-saving transplant.
"By using this program, they think that 3,000 more kidneys will be transplanted every year. If you think there are 14,000 transplanted now, that's a significant increase," Forbes said.
So, three months after the couple signed up, Beasley had a donor, and on Dec. 11, he became Vanderbilt's first-ever kidney recipient under this new program.
"I owe them a lot of gratitude," Beasley said.
Donors and recipients are matched through a computer program, so Beasley doesn't know who saved his life.
But he does know that he's just a piece of a very unique chain.
The first donor was in Colorado, who gave the gift of life to a stranger in Minnesota, who then donated to Beasley here in Nashville.
Now, Beasley's wife will continue the chain and donate to a stranger in need.
"Someone asked me, 'What if one of your kids needs a kidney?' We'll cross that bridge, but I'm donating because someone saved my husband's life, and I'm willing to save someone else's life," said wife Collette Beasley.
Forbes, who performed Travis Beasley's surgery, will now perform Collette Beasley's surgery, and her kidney will be sent on to a stranger in need.
Since this program started in 2007, the longest chain has been 60 people. That's 30 donors and 30 recipients.