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Department of Surgery News Archive

May 2018

Kidney donors and recipients at the May 23 press conference at the Anschutz Medical Campus

Left to right: Kidney donors and recipients Jenni Uzri, Derek Lewis, Carina Robertson, Marishia Schielhut, Tonya Robertson, Crystal Acosta, and Annette Horta. The final kidney recipient, Ethan Lamb, wasn't able to attend the press conference for scheduling reasons but is doing fine.

Historic chain of kidney transplants completed

Derek Lewis, a single father in Highlands Ranch, had been battling kidney failure for more than ten years. He chose not to go on dialysis because it would mean too many hours apart from his children. He hoped to receive a kidney transplant, but the average wait time is several years.

Derek's girlfriend, Marishia, wanted to donate one of her kidneys to him, but when she got tested, she learned that she wasn't a match.

Elsewhere in Colorado, two other would-be kidney donors were in the same situation. Annette Horta wanted to donate a kidney to her sister, Crystal, but she wasn't compatible. Similarly, Tonya Robertson wanted to donate a kidney to her mother, Carina, but discovered that she wasn't a match.

The whole situation was unlocked by a woman named Jenni Uzri from Colorado Springs. Jenni had never known anyone who needed a kidney transplant. She was just looking for a way to help others. When she learned about the power of kidney donation to save lives, she was galvanized. She decided to step forward and get tested.

Derek Lewis hugs his kidney donor, Jenni Uzri

Derek Lewis hugs his kidney donor, Jenni Uzri, at a press conference celebrating the kidney-donation chain. (Credit: CBS)

Through a "paired donation" program, University of Colorado Hospital identified a four-way exchange that could be made:

  • Jenni's kidney would go to Derek.
  • Derek's girlfriend's kidney would go to Crystal.
  • Crystal's sister's kidney would go to Carina.
  • Carina's daughter's kidney would go to another needy recipient, Ethan.

All four transplants were performed the same day—April 27, 2018—at University of Colorado Hospital. It was the largest in-house chain of kidney donations in Colorado history. Drs. Thomas Bak, James Pomposelli, Trevor Nydam, Megan Adams, and Kendra Conzen performed the surgeries.

A few weeks later, on May 23, the kidney donors and recipients all met each other for the first time on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. You can watch video of the event and hear more of the story on the CBS-4 Denver and 9News websites.