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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University December 15, 2003 | Vol. 33 No. 15
'Super Surgery' to Air Documentary on Hopkins Kidney Transplant Program

By Karen Blum
Johns Hopkins Medicine

A Washington, D.C.-based television producer turned the cameras on herself this past spring, allowing her colleagues to film her much-needed kidney transplant at Johns Hopkins.

Sharon Sullivan's story, A Stranger's Gift, will air at 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 19, as part of the Discovery Health Channel's Super Surgery series. The hourlong documentary chronicles Sullivan's long-term struggle with kidney disease, culminating in a new chance at life offered by Hopkins' incompatible kidney transplant programs.

At birth, one of Sullivan's kidneys was not connected to her ureter and was rotting inside her abdomen. Once the kidney was removed, she lived a fairly healthy life until age 19, when her remaining kidney developed polycystic kidney disease, a condition that causes large cysts to grow on the organ, threatening to shut it down. By age 25, she badly needed a transplant.

At the time, her father donated a kidney and several family members donated blood for transfusions. Fifteen years later, while on a television shoot, she was bitten by a brown recluse spider. The insect's venom poisoned the donated kidney and threatened to shut down her immune system.

Between the previous transplant, a pregnancy and the family's blood that had been used for transfusions, Sullivan developed antibodies that would attack and instantly reject just about any donated kidney. She became a patient of the Hopkins incompatible kidney transplant programs in 2001, and desperate to find a donor, she and her parents talked to friends, co-workers and strangers. More than 60 people underwent blood tests to see if they could donate, but none was an acceptable match. Meanwhile, she spent several hours a week undergoing dialysis to keep her alive.

Finally, her parents received a call from Bryan Boyden, an Alamogordo, N.M., horse farmer who had seen a flier about Sharon that her father had posted at a Kmart store. Boyden turned out to be the best possible match.

Sullivan was admitted to Hopkins for surgery on June 3.

Robert A. Montgomery, chief of transplant and director of the incompatible kidney transplant programs, said that because of the severity of Sullivan's illness, the operation was one of the riskiest that he and his colleagues had ever performed.

"We've sort of become the 'Supreme Court' of kidney transplantation,' " Montgomery says during the documentary airing this week. "People come here when they're near the end of the line."

For more information Hopkins' incompatible kidney transplant programs, call 410-614-6074 or go to


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