updated 9/12/2006 8:39:25 PM ET 2006-09-13T00:39:25

Two men are donating kidneys to each other's wives in a four-way surgical swap at Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital on Wednesday. It is the first time such a swap among healthy, living donors and patients with kidney failure has taken place at the hospital.

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Jody Pardoe, 43, will receive a kidney from a stranger who has compatible blood and tissue types. Meanwhile, her husband Peter has turned out to be a compatible donor for the other man's wife. They do not know the identities of the other couple.

It will be Jody's second kidney transplant since 1991, and she hopes it will allow her to live without regular dialysis. Yet she has mixed feelings because she is concerned for her husband.

"I feel guilty about Peter giving up his kidney," she said. "I can't say enough about what Peter is doing. It's not as if he's giving it to me. He's giving it to a stranger so that I can have a better life. I love him more now than I ever did."

For Peter, 43, the donation is just part of being married. When he learned of the hospital's program allowing healthy family members to donate a kidney in exchange for a transplanted organ from another healthy donor, he signed on.

"I had no second thoughts or qualms about it. I was just doing it for Jody. Anything I could do to make her life a little more normal," he said.

The Pardoes were ready to go through a similar swap two years ago, but it fell through when they learned the donor kidney had an extra artery that would have led to a 25 percent loss in kidney function for Jody.

They returned to the transplant waiting list while the hospital searched for a compatible donor. That search was more difficult because Jody has type B blood, which is shared by only 3 percent of the population.

"It was disappointing, but we never gave up hope," said Peter.

Two surgical teams, led by Dr. David Axelrod and Dr. John Seign, will begin by removing healthy kidneys from the two men, a procedure that should last two or three hours. Then they will perform the transplants, which take about the same amount of time.

"We have a certain responsibility to the donor, because here are healthy people coming in with this extraordinary gift," Axelrod said. "The day is really centered around donor safety."

The hospital performs about 60 kidney transplants each year and boasts a 98 percent survival rate after the first year. Transplants from living donors — whether relatives or strangers — do better than organs donated by someone who has died, Axelrod said.

The first kidney swap took place at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore in 2001, and the first swap in New England was at a Boston hospital in 2002. Since then, there have been about 100 paired kidney exchanges.

"It takes a lot of work, a lot of effort and a lot of faith," said Axelrod. "People have to have faith that the quality of the kidney one is getting is as good as one they are giving."

Jody Pardoe is not concerned with making history, but she hopes other people in her situation will understand they have alternatives to signing up on a regional organ donation waiting list or finding a relative who is willing and able to donate.

"What I hope is that this opens the door for others, because there are so many people in need waiting for transplants," she said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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