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MN woman donates kidney, launching nation's longest kidney transplant chain

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A Minneapolis woman's decision to donate her kidney to a complete stranger launched the nation's longest multi-hospital kidney transplant chain ever, helping save the lives of 34 people.

Kathy Hart, 48, donated her kidney simply because she could, she explained in a column for ABC News, writing "It was not only one of the easiest decisions I've made, it was one of the best."

She first decided to donate her kidney when she found out a 7-year-old boy needed one, but after failing to be a match she still wanted to help save a life.

That's when she, with the help of the University of Minnesota, joined the National Kidney Registry's paired exchange program. The University of Minnesota Medical Center is one of the leading altruistic kidney donation centers in the country, its Facebook page says.

The National Kidney Registry is based solely on altruism. It works like this: If a loved one isn't a good match to donate a kidney, they can choose to donate a kidney on the patient's behalf to someone they do match with, and the chain continues so long as people are willing to donate to someone they don't know, the New York-based nonprofit says.

Hart chose to do that this past January, KSTP reports. Her selfless act led dozens more to pay it forward. And now, 34 kidneys have been donated to save the lives of 34 people, making it the nation's longest kidney transplant chain, WISN reports.

Most chains involve three to 30 donors, the National Kidney Registry notes.

Hart's story, along with several others that have benefited in recent weeks, was featured on ABC's "Frontline" Tuesday night.

“I think the fact that it was to a stranger is one of the parts that people have a really hard time grasping. But it actually even makes it easier,” Hart told "Frontline." “From the very beginning I didn't have an attachment to the outcome or any judgment attached to who gets it or who's deserving. ... I have an opportunity to give, and why wouldn't I?”

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There are more than 100,000 people in the United States in need of a kidney, fewer than 17,000 receive one each year, the National Kidney Foundation notes.

The National Kidney Registry has facilitated 1,332 kidney transplants through its paired exchange program since being founded in 2008. Currently, there are 325 active donors, the largest donor pool in the world, the nonprofit says.

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