Five Way Transplant Group
Ten strangers became forever linked through organ donation.
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A kidney transplant to save a life

By December 2016, J.R. Rimmer was about ready to give up on life. 

After a lifetime of diabetes, a bacterial infection had left his kidneys nearly unusable. For two years, he had spent three days a week in dialysis, waiting for a kidney transplant. The treatments left him weak, unable to care for his Shetland ponies, one of the great passions of his life. J.R. was used to an active life — blacksmithing horseshoes, chasing his grandson around their farm and putting in a full day’s work. This new, weakened state made his life, in his words, “barely worth living.”

“I needed dialysis to stay alive, but to me, at the point I was at, it wasn’t living. I was only existing,” J.R. says. J.R. sat down with his wife, Melanie, and their two daughters and told them that, after the first of the year, he was stopping dialysis, a choice that would, without a doubt, cause his kidneys to fail. Melanie knew she had done everything she could: she already had volunteered to donate one of her kidneys on J.R.’s behalf — a choice that moved him higher on the transplant list. All they could do was wait. 

Good news came just a few days before Christmas, when the Rimmers got a call from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Transplant team: They’d found a match for J.R. They’d also found a donor in need of one of Melanie’s kidneys. 

“Ann — she gave me my life back... And of course, my wife did too, when she donated her kidney. Two women in my life now... I owe them my life.” J.R. Rimmer

A complex "chain" transplant

This is where the story gets complicated. Five patients in need of kidneys were matched with five healthy donors. 

Melanie donated a kidney to Bill, a man she’d never met. Bill’s daughter’s boyfriend was donating his kidney to a man named Matthew. Matthew’s mother donated her kidney to a woman named Patricia. Patricia’s sister donated her kidney to a woman named Beth. Ann, a friend of Beth’s daughter, donated her kidney to J.R. 

“Chain” transplants such as this require complex planning. Kidney donors must match their recipients’ blood type, and the kidneys have to be the right size. On Valentine’s Day in 2017, the 10 surgeries were conducted concurrently at Ohio State.

The complex organ-matching process and surgeries were funded, in part, by donors who know the lifesaving gift of organ transplantation.

Organ transplants creating life-long bonds

Since the surgery, J.R. and Melanie have become close friends with others in their transplant circle. Ann — J.R.’s donor — came to Darke County, near the Indiana-Ohio border, in August 2017 to watch J.R. and Melanie show ponies at the Darke County Fair. Bill and Melanie trade Facebook messages. Everyone sent holiday cards.

On February 14, 2018, one year after surgery, most of the 10 donors and recipients met back at Ohio State for a checkup. A nurse handed out “Donate Life” pins split in half — one side went to a donor; the other went to a recipient. Ann brought cookies shaped like kidneys with the words “one
for me, one for you” painted on in icing. Everyone’s checkup was flawless.

At lunch that afternoon, Ann’s eyes filled with tears recounting the transplant day. “February 14 is forever etched in my heart now,” she said. “These people are my extended family.”

J.R. choked up a bit too. “Ann — she gave me my life back,” he says. “And of course, my wife did too, when she donated her kidney. Two women in my life now ... I owe them my life.

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