There used to be only three ways off of a kidney transplant waiting list. The first was to find a healthy person from within one's own pool of friends and family, who perfectly matched both the recipient's blood and tissue types, and possessed a spare kidney he or she was willing to part with.
The second was to wait for the unexpected death of a stranger who was a suitable physical match and happened to have the organ-donor box checked on their driver's license.
The third was to die.
But then it occurred to doctors: given enough kidney patients, and enough healthy, willing donors, they could form a pool big enough to facilitate far more matches than the one-to-one system of the past. As long as patients could procure a donor—any donor, even one that wasn't a fit with the patient themselves—they could get a matching kidney.
At first, this required doctors to spend brain-searing hours poring over the details of blood types and tissue variations in patients' and potential donors' charts. Then computer scientists and economists got involved. They built algorithms that performed these complicated matches more elegantly than human brains ever could. Now, thanks to artificial intelligence, a person stepping forward to donate a kidney to a loved one—or to a perfect stranger—can set off a chain that saves dozens of lives.
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