Bernard Tatum

Bernard Tatum (fox5sandiego.com / June 1, 2012)

LA JOLLA, Calif. -- A San Diego man and his friend, a woman from San Marcos, have become part of the first intercontinental kidney donation chain, officials with Scripps Health announced today.

The chain, which started when an Oklahoma woman gave a kidney to a man in Greece, has led to 10 donors and recipients, including Bernard Tatum, 58, and Genene Wiebe, 49, who underwent transplant surgeries at Scripps Green Hospital. According to Scripps, Wiebe gave her kidney to a patient in Ohio, which cleared the way for Tatum to receive a kidney from a man in Kentucky.

"I found out that my kidney was too small to donate to Bernard, but I was willing to do a pairing,'' Wiebe said. "It was on my heart to help him. I knew what kind of a difference it would make to him.''

The two know each other through Mesa View Baptist Church in Rancho Bernardo, where Tatum is chairman of the Board of Trustees and Wiebe works as an administrative assistant.

Donor chains are providing new opportunities for patients who can't match with relatives and friends and have to spend months or years on a waiting list for a match with a dead donor, according to Scripps officials.

"This is a new and exciting era in organ transplantation,'' said Dr. Christopher Marsh, chief of transplant surgery at Scripps Green. "I hope this example motivates more people to donate their kidney to save lives.''

Redefining the concept of paying forward, a donor chain can start with someone donating an organ on condition that the recipient locate a donor for another patient. Some donor chains require donor swaps to occur at the same time at the same hospital.

Tatum said he was overwhelmed when Wiebe revealed her plans.

"To give someone else life by sacrificing a part of you, that is probably the greatest gift anyone can give,'' said Tatum, who was on dialysis and an organ transplant waiting list for two years and one month before receiving his new kidney on May 1, according to Scripps Health.

The chain began when Greek patient Michalis Helmis received a kidney from a 31-year-old woman from Oklahoma -- after Helmis' wife agreed to give one of her kidneys to a 57-year-old man in Pennsylvania. That man's 43-year-old friend then gave one of his kidneys to a 57-year-old woman in Louisville. That woman's husband then gave one of his kidneys to Tatum.

The chain is scheduled to continue with three more kidney paired donations and transplants in Atlanta and Denver, according to the Alliance for Paired Donation, which arranged the exchanges.