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Twin sisters receive kidneys from same donor

Two 10-year-olds born with rare disorder are getting a new chance at life because a Chicago-area trauma victim believed in organ donation, the children's mother said Monday on TODAY.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

It had been snowing in Chicago when the call came from the hospital telling Rachel Dalomba that transplant teams had acquired two kidneys from a trauma victim -- one for each of her twin, 10-year-old daughters.

“The snow and everything this time of year -- it really felt like we were getting a great Christmas gift,” Dalomba told TODAY’s Ann Curry during an appearance on Monday.

Dalomba was recalling her thoughts last Wednesday when her girls, Nelly and Anji Polanco, got their childhoods back. At the same time, they provided a new line in the medical record books.

The transplants, performed by two teams totaling some 30 members at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, were the first time twins had ever received kidneys on the same day from a single donor.

“If it wasn’t for this person believing in organ donation, this wouldn’t’ have happened so quickly,” she told Curry from the hospital in Chicago. “I just want to thank the donor family. They’re going through a lot right now.”

The competition for donor organs is fierce because the demand is high and the supply is limited, said the head of the transplant team, Dr. Riccardo Superina.

Because of that, when two kidneys become available from a single donor, they’re normally sent to different recipients. Normally, Dalomba’s daughters would have gotten their kidneys at different times.

But as a single mother, Dalomba was in a unique situation. She told NBC News that it would have been nearly impossible to care for one daughter with a new kidney and another who had to be shuttled back and forth to dialysis while both girls were also in school.

She also wondered how she could possibly choose which of her two daughters would get a kidney first when both were equally desperate for one.

“One person trying to go back and forth with all of this would be really hard,” Dalomba said, “So they tried to have some consideration for me and asked for this exception.”

Dalomba’s daughters were diagnosed before their first birthday with cystinosis, a rare and incurable genetic condition that blocks normal production of amino acids, causing tissue abnormalities, mostly in the kidneys and eyes.

In children with the condition, the kidneys usually fail within the first 10 years of life. The girls’ kidneys had failed early this year and both were on dialysis while they continued to go to school.

Five days after the transplant, both girls were well enough to sit with Dalomba and Superina on a couch in the hospital.

“They’re doing a lot better,” Dalomba said. “They’re back to themselves. They’re happy and then grumpy back and forth.”

Although both girls will not have to worry about their kidneys beyond taking medication to keep their bodies from rejecting them, doctors will have to continue to monitor the effects of cystinosis on their eyes.

Dalomba said she was so busy getting Anji and Nelly to the hospital, she didn’t really think about what it all meant.

“I didn’t have time to be emotional,” she told Curry. “I was just very grateful and very happy and I just had to tend to the girls and make sure they were going to be okay and were going to get through it fine.”

Dalomba said she hopes her daughters’ story will raise awareness of the need for organ donors. “It saves lives,” she said. “It saved my two girls, and I’m very grateful.”