How one man’s kidney saved seven lives

One man’s kidney donation has sparked Australia’s largest ever kidney exchange, saving the lives of seven Australians in one day.

The 54-year-old Victorian man Paul Bannan was going to donate his kidney to his friend Rob Cairns. But when Mr Cairns received a kidney from a deceased donor and Mr Bannan’s kidney was no longer required, after a little soul-searching, he decided to stay on the donor list.

That one kidney donation inspired more kidney donors which then started a chain of events involving six hospitals across two states and saved seven lives in one day.

And although doctors told Mr Bannan he could walk away from the program because his friend no longer needed help, he still decided to donate his kidney to a stranger because, according to him, “a stranger’s a mate that I haven’t met yet.”

“So somewhere along the line I’ve helped a mate,” said Mr Bannan. “It’s a big influence on seven people, and that’s really great … absolutely brilliant.”

The Royal Melbourne Hospital’s renal transplant surgeon Tim Furlong said the surgery was standard but the number of operations made it exceptional.

“It is a big deal. It’s one of the most [important things] that I can do in my job because there are so many people involved and because these patients in need are so difficult to transplant,” he said. “It’s really, really good to be able to get them transplanted and off dialysis.”

People with kidney failure rely on dialysis to survive, but it is not a cure. Kidney donations usually occur between two compatible people who know each other. Paired kidney exchanges happen when willing donors who are incompatible swap donor kidneys.

“Paul is unique, he is a fantastic hero really,” said Professor Steve Holt. “With the paired kidney exchange we often facilitate two transplants, or perhaps three transplants but seven is the biggest transplant chain we’ve managed to date in Australia.” 

Read the transcript of The World Today interview with Paul Bannan.

What do you think of Mr Bannan’s act? Would you do the same if you were in his shoes? Given Australia’s poor world ranking when it comes to organ donations, what would you suggest to improve this parlous situation?

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.


Keep your kidneys healthy

Healthy kidneys are vital to our wellbeing.

Dialysis while cruising

Keith has heard of cruises that offer dialysis sessions.

The truth about organ donation

37 per cent of older Australians assume they are too old to donate.