Two hard-to-match transplant patients 250 miles apart started the year of 2024 with shining new hope for long, healthy lives — thanks to the collaboration of two Texas hospitals.

UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Solid Organ Transplant Program in Dallas, Texas, and University Health Transplant Institute in San Antonio worked together to find compatible living kidney donors for their failing patients.

In Dallas, Jorge Mendez, 50, an automotive shop foreman, was in need of a life-saving transplant.

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Mendez was on dialysis — which has a significant impact on not only a person’s quality of life on a daily basis, but also long-term health. 

It was important for him to find a transplant before he became too sick for the procedure, according to his doctor.

Mendez’s coworker, Svetlana Balmeo Stockdale, 28, offered to donate a kidney to her friend — but unfortunately she was not a match.

Meanwhile, 250 miles away in San Antonio, 71-year-old Ann Winer was also in dire need of a kidney transplant. 

She was on dialysis after waiting almost two years for a kidney donor.

Winer’s biggest obstacle was that she had unusual antibodies that made it very difficult for her to match with a donor, her doctors said.

Winer’s daughter, Rebecca Warden, wanted to donate a kidney — but it was not a compatible match.

“Winer would likely have become weaker over time and her condition would have grown worse,” Parsia Vagefi, M.D., the transplant surgeon at UT Southwestern who led the surgical team in Dallas, told Fox News Digital.

“She said she had almost given up hope of receiving a transplant.”

The leaders at both institutions began working together to find matches outside their local transplant networks.

After learning that she wasn’t a match for her friend, Stockdale — the intended donor for Mendez — got a surprising phone call.

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“A little while after I was told my kidney wasn’t a match, UT Southwestern called me and they said, ‘You couldn’t donate to Jorge, but we could do a swap with somebody else,'” she said in a statement to Fox News Digital.

As it turned out, Stockdale was a match for Winer, the grandmother in San Diego — and Warden, who had intended to donate to her mother, was a match for Mendez.

The medical teams in Dallas and San Antonio began plans for a donor swap for their respective patients. 

“[After finding the matches], we began discussing, ‘When would we start the surgeries? How would we transport the organs? How would the organs be tracked?’” said Dr. Elizabeth Thomas, transplant surgeon with University Health who led the transplant team in San Antonio, in a comment sent to Fox News Digital.

Through “carefully choreographed surgical schedules and chartered flights,” the transplant teams ensured that the donated organs would be safely transported and transplanted as quickly as possible, according to a statement from the hospitals.

“[The transport] could be tracked minute by minute in the plane via a tag that was on the box that was used to transport [the kidneys],” Thomas said. 

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“It is important because we want to keep the time that the organ is out of the body without blood to a minimum.”

On Aug. 31, 2023, after a day of “superbly timed surgeries and close coordination,” according to the hospitals, Winer and Mendez received the new, functioning kidneys they needed to save their lives.

“There are various ways you can do the swaps and various reasons to do them … It never gets old,” Dr. Vagefi told Fox News Digital.

Only a quarter of the transplants performed at UT Southwestern are from living donors, but Vagefi said he is hoping to expand that number, as living kidney donations last longer for the recipients. 

“It’s really great to participate in it and form a collaboration with others who are working toward the same mission but in a different city,” he said. “We crossed geographic boundaries to help these families.”

Because of the life-saving transplant, Mendez was able to hold his new granddaughter when the baby was born in January.

“It brought tears to my eyes to hold her,” he said in a statement. “Now I can live a little bit longer to spend time with her.”

He later wrote to his donor: “Thank you very much. I owe you the world.”

“I felt like they’d never find a donor for me, but they did,” Winer said. 

On a card she sent to her Dallas donor, she wrote: “I will never be able to repay you.”

Stockdale, who had intended to donate to her friend Mendez, shared what being a donor means to her in a statement to Fox News Digital. 

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“I don’t think of it as me saving somebody’s life,” she said. “I think of it as me giving Jorge’s family members more time with him.”

“[For Winer], whatever she hasn’t accomplished in life yet that she ultimately wanted to do, I hope she gets to do it. Life’s too short to not live out your wildest dreams.”

Winer, the retired nurse anesthesiologist, later wrote a letter to Stockdale thanking her for the kidney.

“Thank you for giving me back my life,” she wrote. 

“I thought I would never get a transplant with my weird antibodies, and then you came along. Bless you.”

Warden — Winer’s daughter who had intended to donate to her mother but agreed to donate to Mendez in exchange for her mother receiving a transplant — also expressed her gratitude.

“At the end of the day, I’m happy that I’ve been able to help two people and not just one,” she said in a statement.

Today, both transplant recipients are doing well.

Winer is back at work part-time as a nurse anesthesiologist and is planning to retire at the end of July. 

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Mendez has also returned to work. “I feel great,” he said. 

Scott Bennett, associate vice president of the Solid Organ Transplant Program at UT Southwestern, said in a press release that “a patient’s access to a lifesaving transplant shouldn’t be limited by geographic or organizational boundaries.”

“It was rewarding to see the collective can-do spirit of two highly regarded programs collaborate to make it happen,” he added.

A kidney is the organ in the greatest demand for transplant.

A healthy person can live a full life after donating one of their two kidneys, according to experts.

The average life expectancy for someone on dialysis is five to 10 years, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

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