UT Headlines

UTMC involved in first international kidney exchange

The first international “Pay it Forward” kidney donor chain and UT’s role in making it happen made national news over the weekend.

Dr. Michael Rees, professor of urology and kidney transplant surgeon, with U.S. Department of State Deputy Assistant Secretary Eric Rubin and Greek Ambassador Vassilis Kaskarelis in Washington.

Altruistic kidney donor chains are the brainchild of Dr. Michael Rees, professor of urology and kidney transplant surgeon at UTMC, who helped facilitate the first international donor chain with a couple from Greece through his Alliance for Paired Donation, where he serves as CEO.

To begin a chain, an altruistic donor – Elizabeth Gay from Oklahoma in this case – agrees to donate a kidney to a patient searching for a genetic match. In turn a relative or friend of that patient agrees to donate his or her kidney forward to another patient in search of a genetic match and the chain continues.

The first international kidney donor exchange itself is worthy of national attention, but there is a great story behind how this got started.

Theodora “Dora” Papaioannou-Helmis was genetically unable to donate her kidney to her husband, Michalis, and in their home country of Greece the law stated that only a first or second degree relative could donate their kidney.

Dora worked tirelessly to change the laws in Greece, and after she succeeded, worked to locate a compatible donor for her husband – Elizabeth Gay – and then donated her own kidney to a stranger to continue the chain. The transplant surgeries for  Dora and  Michalis were performed at UTMC.

Already, five lives have been saved and three more transplants are scheduled in this international donor chain.

The Greek Embassy in Washington welcomed the donors, recipients and physicians on Friday in recognition of this successful moment in medical history.

CNN, Fox News and Washington media were on hand to cover the event. And locally, The Blade ran a front-page article on Dr. Rees. Some news agencies covered the story featuring participants from their area, such as Indianapolis Star and North County Times.

The news also was published in CNBCThe Sacramento Bee, Denver Post, and Market Watch, among others. It also caught the attention of the Greek-American media including the USA Greek Reporter, Ekirikas, and the Greek Voice of America.


is UT’s media relations specialist. A Michigan native, she is a proud Michigan State University graduate (Go Green!) who is learning to root for a Rockets team with colors a little too similar to that other Michigan school. Meghan traded in her newspaper reporter notebook for a public relations one and will use this space to comment on and critique the work of her former colleagues and fellow reporters (in the most polite way possible) and spread the news of what is going on at UT.
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