Internet Transplant Partners Recovering From Surgery

A Colorado man who turned to the Internet in hopes of finding a kidney donor, and the donor he met online, were both doing well Wednesday night after doctors performed the first transplant operation with an organ brokered through a commercial website.

Surgeon's at Denver's Presbyterian/St. Luke Medical Center in Denver took four hours to complete the operation.

Bob Hickey, 58, who lives in a mountain town near Vail, had needed a transplant since 1999 because of kidney disease but had grown tired of being on the national waiting list. He met donor Rob Smitty, 32, of Chattanooga, Tenn., through, a for-profit web site created in January to match donors and patients for a fee.

Smitty agreed to give Hickey one of his kidneys before the two men ever met.

Hickey underwent dialysis early Wednesday in preparation for the surgery that had been postponed Monday due to the hospital's ethical concerns about the origins of the kidney. Hickey's surgeon, Dr. Igal Kam, canceled the transplant prodecure after learning that Hickey had met his donor through the web site.

The hospital's Clinical Ethics Committee met Tuesday to evaluate concerns about the transplant, including whether either Hickey or Smitty stood to profit from the arrangement. The panel later advised the hospital to make a compassionate exception, once both men had signed statements indicating that neither would benefit financially.

"Certainly, we know this was very difficult for Mr. Hickey and Mr. Smitty, and our first concern has always been for them," Mimi Roberson, chief executive of Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver, said in a statement late Tuesday. "We're pleased we were able to resolve this quickly with a compassionate exception. But it's also important to note that organ donations continue to be the topic of a broader national debate and more answers are needed."

Roberson insisted, however, that the granting of an exception in this case was not to be construed as an endorsement by the hospital of and said officials would give greater scrutiny to such arrangements in the future.

Ethicists say they still have serious concerns about the use of the Internet to arrange organ donations between strangers.

Smitty, though, said he felt vindicated, after the hospital made it appear as though he had ulterior motives — such as making money off Hickey.

"They're allowing me to do something just good for this man," Smitty said. "Maybe they went and found out I don't have a million dollars in the bank somewhere. I feel grateful, privileged to be wearing the shoes I am."