Shared Donor Network Saves Alamedan’s Life

Courtesy photo    Alamedan Jack Lim and his paired swap donor Mary from Minnesota one week after transplant surgery.

Right now, an average of 122,000 people are waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant, according to the National Kidney Foundation. A little more than 100,000 of those people are waiting for a kidney. The median wait time to receive a kidney is more than three and a half years. Most people do not survive that wait. In fact, 13 people die each day while waiting for a kidney transplant.

But Alameda resident Jack Lim’s story goes against the statistics — largely because of something called the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a way to get at the top of a transplant list quicker. Essentially, it is the “give-a-kidney, get-a-kidney” method. 

In 2012, Lim’s kidney failed due to an auto immune disorder he was unaware he had. In 2018 Lim joined the UNOS network in the hopes of a higher chance of getting a living kidney donor transplant. He just needed someone to donate their kidney, so he could move to the top of the list and wait for a match. The kidney donated on Lim’s behalf did not have to be a match for him, it simply just got him into the system. 

So, his wife Sue, started asking around. “Asking for myself would have been hard. But asking for Jack is easy. I thought ‘I can do this,’” she said.

A handful of people said they would explore the idea. But it isn’t an easy process. “The screening process is rigorous. Applicants have to meet a lot of requirements,” Lim said.

Finally, after months of testing, the sister-in-law of Sue’s sister-in-law Mary met all the requirements to donate. “It is kind of confusing. But we found someone. This was wonderful because it was a race against time,” Lim said.
Now that they had a kidney to put into the system. They just needed a match for Jack.

A 66-year-old woman living in San Diego, wanting only to be known as Rosemary, decided to try to help find a kidney for a friend’s son. “When I heard his story, I told his mother I would absolutely donate a kidney for him.” So, she took the same route as the Lim’s. She donated her kidney in the hopes of speeding up the process for her friend’s son. 

She became the match for Lim. Then, last October, Sue and Jack were told everything was moving on track. They went ahead with the procedures. 

“Everything was quite easy for me,” Rosemary said. 

Lim’s recovery took about 14 months, longer than usual, but now he is back at work and monitoring his health daily. Rosemary’s friend’s son is still waiting for a kidney. Still, both families are beyond grateful for their experiences.

“Knowing about a program like this is most definitely life changing. We can’t let the donors down,” Lim said.

The Lims just recently connected with the Rosemary from San Diego. The families communicate through snail mail and are forever impacted by their shared experiences, and organs.


The Alameda Sun covered the Lims’ story in its Valentine’s edition two years ago (“Have a Heart, Donate a Kidney,” Feb. 8, 2018). See