3 women receive kidneys in Israel-UAE organ exchange, 1st with Arab state

Arrangement involving three families — two in Israel and one in Abu Dhabi — sees relatives secure life-saving surgery for loved ones by donating organs to others in need

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Prof. Eitan Mor removes a kidney of Israeli woman Shani Markowitz at Sheba Medical Center, for transplantation in the United Arab Emirates (courtesy of Sheba Medical Center)
Prof. Eitan Mor removes a kidney of Israeli woman Shani Markowitz at Sheba Medical Center, for transplantation in the United Arab Emirates (courtesy of Sheba Medical Center)

An Israeli woman has donated a kidney to a recipient on Abu Dhabi, in a first-of-its kind arrangement that will bring a kidney from the United Arab emirates to a different Israeli woman.

At 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday, doctors at Sheba Medical Center removed a kidney from Shani Markowitz, 39. The surgery went smoothly, and the organ was raced to Ben Gurion Airport in a special cool box, to be flown to Abu Dhabi.

Meanwhile, a woman in Abu Dhabi underwent surgery and her kidney is en route to Israel, for a woman at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. The husband of the Rambam patient is giving a kidney to Markowitz’s mother, via a surgery at Rabin Medical Center. And Markowitz’s kidney has gone to the mother of the Abu Dhabi donor.

It is part of an arrangement between three families, in which one person in need of a kidney receives a suitable organ, while their relative donates their kidney to a stranger. This complex system is needed because none of the patients have relatives whose kidneys are suitable for them.

“This is very exciting. It’s the first time we have conducted such a process between Israel and an Arab state, and it really shows that medicine has no borders,” Dr. Rafi Bayer, chairman of the Israel Center for Organ Transplantation, told The Times of Israel.

Negotiated by the center’s chief executive, Dr. Tamar Ashkenazi, it is one of several instances of health cooperation brought about by the year-old Abraham Accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Bayer said that, given the proximity of the UAE, it is an arrangement that can be used regularly to save lives.

Prof. Eitan Mor of Sheba Medical Center inspects a kidney from Israeli woman Shani Markowitz, just before it was transported to the United Arab Emirates ion July 28, 2021 (courtesy of Sheba Medical Center)

He said: “We have a process in which three families, two in Israel and one in Abu Dhabi, are involved in what we call a cross-couple transplantation. We have done this with Cyprus in the past, but expanding this to the UAE opens new possibilities.”

At Sheba Medical Center, Prof. Eitan Mor, who conducted Wednesday morning’s surgery, said: “This is the first exchange between Israel and Abu Dhabi. This kidney that we harvested this morning was shipped to Abu Dhabi.

“We started the procedure at 5:30 in the morning to accommodate the flight times so that the kidney will not stay for too long in the box, in the cooler. I hope that this collaboration will open a door for collaboration in further fields of medicine between us and the Emirates.”

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