DURHAM (WTVD) -- Six people who took part in a three-way kidney exchange met for the first time at Duke University Medical Center Friday.
"It's a pretty exciting day in Duke history," explained Dr. Aparna Rege, an abdominal transplant surgeon at Duke Health. "Through the paired exchange, we try to transplant patients with living donors despite the fact their own donors may not match them. So, through the paired exchange, we try to match them and bring about these transplants."
The donations all began when a 44-year-old Raleigh woman decided to donate to anyone in need after seeing a news story about an altruistic kidney donor.
She made the call to Duke in March and was in surgery, donating her kidney in July.
"It's just something I felt strongly I was supposed to do," Julie said - she did not want to reveal her last name. "To make someone's life better, that makes me happy to do something like that."
Julie's kidney was a match for 51-year-old Frankie Locklear of Turkey, North Carolina, who suffered from a chronic kidney condition.
His news triggered his sister Tammy to donate her kidney to someone in need as she was not a match for her brother.
Tammy's kidney matched 30-year-old Steven Mullins of Lebanon, Virgina, who suffered from a congenital kidney condition.
Steven's mother, 60-year-old Kathy Mullins, was matched to donate her kidney to 48-year-old Russell Bridgers of Fayetteville.
Bridgers, a Gulf War veteran, had been on dialysis for six years.
"I appreciate everything, and this is my Christmas present for life," Bridgers said.
There are more than 100,000 patients nationwide waiting for a kidney transplant with more than 2,500 in North Carolina alone.
Duke runs the largest living donor program in the state and expects to do 50 transplants in 2017 while on track to do 60 in 2018.
THE ULTIMATE GIFT: Three kidney patients meet their donors at Duke