Amazing story behind a rare 12-patient, 6-way kidney transplant

Last Updated Mar 6, 2015 8:20 AM EST

UPDATE: The first three kidney transplants were completed Thursday; three more are taking place Friday.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Twelve patients are preparing to participate in a rare, two day, six-way paired kidney donation transplant at San Francisco's California Pacific Medical Center.

The six donors and six recipients involved will travel to the Bay Area from as far as Arizona, CBS San Francisco reports.

A paired kidney donation is when a living kidney donor is not a match for a relative who needs a kidney, so they donate to a stranger instead, while another donor is paired with the relative in need.

"This is a different type in which an altruistic donor starts a domino type of transplant. Her kidney goes to the first recipient, another gives a kidney to the next, on down the line," transplant surgeon Dr. William Bry told KPIX-TV.

This particular chain of transplants was set into motion by a Sacramento woman, Zully Broussard, who was inspired to help others after enduring personal tragedies. She lost her son to cancer 13 years ago, and her husband also died of cancer just 14 months ago.

"I know what it feels like to want an extra day and not be able to have it," Broussard said.

But she never expected that her act of generosity would impact so many lives.

"I didn't realize it was going to be such a big thing. I only have one kidney, how can I help all these people?" she said.

The pairs of donors and recipients were matched with the help of a computer software program developed by a kidney transplant recipient, David Jacobs, who underwent his life-saving operation at the same San Francisco hospital in 2004.

This will be the largest single-center kidney paired donation chain conducted on the West Coast, and the largest conducted in the 44-year history of the CPMC Transplant Center.

The procedures will involve a team of five surgeons, anesthesiologists, physicians assistants, nurses and dozens of support staff.

"In fact one of the obstacles we had to overcome is having enough sets of surgical instruments to do them all at the same time," Bry said.