BUFFALO, N.Y. — It was about 10 years ago when Ruth Faust of Buffalo, a mother of nine children, began experiencing kidney disease symptoms.
Her former daughter-in-law Christine Faust, who was still close to Ruth, found out about Ruth needing a kidney and sought to donate one of hers.
Unfortunately, Christine was not a compatible match.
Meanwhile, in Oak Lawn, Ill., things had taken a turn for the worse for Frederick "Rick" Calcutt, 59, who had lead an active life despite having kidney disease.
His renal function had plummeted dramatically, requiring hours of dialysis a day to function. Doctors concluded a kidney transplant was his only hope.
His wife, Marissa Calcutt, 52, hoped she could donate one of her kidneys. However, much like when Christine Faust had stepped up to offer her kidney to her former mother-in-law, Marissa learned she wasn't a match as a kidney donor for her husband.
Helping their loved ones by helping others
Christine and Marissa then learned they could still help their loved ones, by donating a kidney to someone else, through United Network for Organ Sharing's Kidney Paired Donation Program.
"In a very real way, you are really helping two people," Christine Faust said.
Marissa also signed up to donate, and in exchange this allowed their loved ones in need of a kidney to be moved up on the transplant list.
Matches were found in short order, and surgeries were done over the summer in Buffalo and in Chicago.
Kidney transplants are nothing new at ECMC in Buffalo; 148 of them were conducted at the hospital in 2021, and the facility is on pace to eclipse that number this year.
This was the first one done at ECMC, however, that hospital officials say came about as the result of a "three way kidney paired exchange."
You'll need a scorecard
In something that local sports fans might liken to when the Buffalo Bills obtained Cornelius Bennett through a three-team trade 25 years ago, Marissa's donated kidney went to an unnamed recipient, while Christine's donated kidney went to Marissa's husband, Frederick. Ruth then received her kidney from an unnamed donor from Rhode Island.
And much like the Bennett trade in 1987, it all came together rather quickly.
"There was going to be this three-way exchange, and the doctor wanted to do surgery in two weeks," said Christine, in recalling how all parties had to be ready to undergo surgery, whether they were on the giving or receiving end of the exchange.
'Hello, how are you?'
On Thursday, through an online hook up, Christine and Ruth met Marissa and Frederick for the first time.
They shared stories, shed tears, and expressed gratitude to one another.
Marissa said that she recently received a card from the person who received her donated kidney (who was not identified) thanking her.
Meanwhile, Ruth Faust has not heard from the donor from Rhode Island whose kidney she received, but hopes to someday.
"I would just like to thank them for all they've done for me," she said.
A tremendous outcome
All parties involved reported themselves to be in good health.
"It's a tremendous, tremendous outcome," said John Vonvisger, ECMC's transplant medical director.
"And in this circumstance, where they may donate to somebody they don't even know. ... We can't celebrate enough the people that step up to be donors. It's just an amazing gift," he said.