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Helping friends and strangers

As various types of transplant surgery have become more widespread in recent years, we’ve all heard of heartwarming cases where someone has donated a kidney or a lung in order to make life better for a close relative or a dear friend.

But this week, we learned of an especially inspiring story.

Shane Meltzer of Lyndeborough made a rather remarkable decision. He agreed to donate one of his healthy kidneys to a total stranger.

Meltzer’s relative, Dan Taylor of Dunstable, Mass., needed a transplant in order to avoid years of dialysis treatment. Meltzer’s kidney wasn’t compatible with Taylor’s needs. But through the National Kidney Registry, which will match donors with appropriate recipients from all over the country, a connection was made. Once Meltzer agreed to donate his kidney, the registry, through its database, was able to find a suitable kidney for Taylor. And it wasn’t a simple connection to make. The chain between Meltzer and Taylor was a connection of 20 different donors and recipients.

A few weeks ago, Meltzer and Taylor both went under the knife at the Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Massachusetts. Meltzer’s kidney was removed and sent to a hospital in Chicago, and Taylor received a kidney from a donor in Cincinnati. Meltzer may never know who received his kidney; Taylor may never know who donated the one he received.

The National Kidney Registry has been a life saver, literally, for some folks who need a kidney transplant. So far, more than 1,000 exchanges have been made.

“It’s about the generosity of the donor,” said Dr. Andrea Sorcini, who did the operation to remove Meltzer’s kidney. “It’s because of them that everything can happen.”

Sorcini said the swap or chain system helps to fill the tremendous need for organs that can be transplanted and helps ensure that willing donors like Meltzer don’t disappear if they aren’t a match for the needs of a friend or relative.

Meltzer says he and his wife had little trouble deciding to participate in the complicated swap.

“In the end, it was a really easy decision,” he said. “We said, ‘Actually, this is better. It helps more people.’”

We salute Meltzer and, in this case, the 10 others scattered throughout the country who were willing to give up one of their kidneys, not knowing anything about who will receive it. They are truly “paying it forward” — making life better for people they don’t even know as well as those they love.

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