Family Moves Halfway Around the World for Daughter's Kidney Transplant

By Amy Zimmer on June 21, 2012 8:39am 

Daaniya Zaidi received a kidney transplant from NY-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center on June 20. In exchange, father, who is incompatible, is donating a kidney as part of a donor chain.
Daaniya Zaidi received a kidney transplant from NY-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center on June 20. In exchange, father, who is incompatible, is donating a kidney as part of a donor chain.
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Facebook/Daaniya's story

MANHATTAN — Daaniya Zaidi, two months shy of turning 3, received a new kidney on Wednesday.

She was part of a donor swap whose chain involved 10 total donors — including Daaniya’s father — and nine recipients.

To prepare for the operation, which took place at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, Daaniya’s family moved from Singapore to the Upper East Side near the hospital. Her father, Salman Zaidi, got permission to relocate his banking job here from Singapore in order to get the care needed for his daughter.

"There was no question about it," said Zaidi, 33, after he researched various hospitals. "Our lives are our children. Where you live doesn’t really matter."

Daaniya’s mother agreed.

"Friends asked how could you pick up and just move everything," said Samareen Shami, 32. "How could you not?"

Daaniya was diagnosed last May with a kidney problem despite seeming perfectly healthy. Then came the urinary tract infections. She was diagnosed with a chronic kidney condition and was put on dialysis a few months later. Doctors said she would eventually need a transplant to replace her faulty kidneys.

"Outwardly, she was totally fine. We were flabbergasted. Her kidney function fell from 100 percent to 25 percent," Shami said. "Our whole world had changed.

"We were looking at an indefinite life of dialysis," she continued. "That’s not a life for a child."

Her parents vowed to get their daughter a transplant within a year.

They were both willing to donate, but their blood types were incompatible. They asked friends and family if they were willing to donate, and launched a Facebook site in search of donors.

Finally, when they realized no one was willing to step up, they began to research options across the globe, finally selecting Weill Cornell because of the hospital’s paired exchange program. They moved to the Upper East Side in February.

That allowed Zaidi to donate his kidney in exchange for a compatible one for his daughter. He will have his donor surgery on June 26.

Zaidi opted to do the donation because Shami, a former oil and gas consultant, will be caring for Daaniya.                                                            

Zaidi said it was hurtful when friends and family declined to help, and both he and his wife hoped their example would encourage other people to donate when able.

"We realized as we were going through the process, of course there are risks, but if you are healthy, this is something you can do," Shami said. "This is our child’s life. We did whatever we could."

She noted that they were lucky in that they had the means to move and that the family, originally from Pakistan, was accustomed to living abroad.

Working with the National Kidney Registry, Weill Cornell’s program uses sophisticated computer software to identify potential donors and recipients, often from across the country and sometimes stretching up to 30 donors, hospital officials said.

Daaniya’s chain started with a donor from Colorado at the end of May with a kidney traveling to Weill Cornell, and then a donor here sending a kidney to Boston. The chain moved onto Ohio next, and from there to California, where someone's kidney was flown on Tuesday's red-eye for Daaniya's surgery. The next three links will all be at Weill Cornell, explained Marian Charlton, the hospital’s chief transplant coordinator.

Besides technology, donor chains involve "many sleepless nights," figuring out timing of operations and coordinating organ travel, because "there’s no room for any error," she said. "It has to be timed perfectly."

Weill Cornell joined the paired donor exchange program in 2008.

"It has allowed us to offer opportunities to people who otherwise would not have an option for a donation," said Dr. Sandip Kapur, the hospital’s chief of transplant surgery.

"Parents more often than not are willing to come forward," he added. "But you don’t often see a family that will travel the world and relocate their whole life to get that done."

Daaniya’s kidneys were removed in May, and after months on dialysis she got a new organ Wednesday.

So far, her parents are pleased.

"She came out of surgery and seems to be doing well," Shami said from the hospital. "She’s peeing away. The more she pees, the better," she said, noting that it looked like her new kidney was doing its job.

Dr. Kapur was also hopeful.

"Kids, even more than adults, recover pretty rapidly," he said before the operation. "Within two to three weeks, we expect her to be a happy kid, running around. She’ll have a natural filter once again."

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