Former Pasadena Mayor Bill Paparian is successfully recovering from a lifesaving kidney transplant from his wife of 37 years, Sona, even though they have different blood types.
The rare and relatively new procedure is known as an ABO incompatible transplant, which only a small number of hospitals in the United States are able to perform. It enabled Paparian, 70, who has had kidney disease for 12 years, to receive the healthy organ just 10 months after starting dialysis rather than the many years it usually takes, if at all.
“I’m getting stronger every day,” Paparian told the Pasadena Weekly. “I have to confess it was a real struggle in the beginning. It wasn’t easy post-surgery. I basically was confined at home for weeks, which was pretty difficult for me because I’m normally a very active person. Two of my three sons, my oldest and my youngest, were there to take care of us. We basically had to have someone help us each day. My oldest son returned from Armenia, where he lives and works, for five weeks so he could be with me and my wife and help out.”
The surgery took place on Aug. 6 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. A criminal defense attorney, Paparian is already back to work and back in the gym.
“I went to court for the first time last week,” he said. “I was in court yesterday morning. I’m in my office right now waiting to meet with clients. I’m slowly getting back to where I was physically. I’m not there yet, but I’m slowly getting there.”
Paparian said his wife researched their options after he signed up on the National Kidney Registry and discovered the ABO incompatible transplant procedure. He said in a blog post on Cedars-Sinai’s website that Sona “stepping up like this is a real testament to our very strong relationship.”
He added that when he first went to Cedars-Sinai in 2016 he wasn’t told about the possibility of an ABO incompatible transplant.
“My understanding was that you had to find a donor with the same blood type as your own,” he said. “I’m A positive and Sona is B. So when we found out that that was an option, we went back to Cedars and we both had to go through an intensive screening process. There was a lot to it. It took a long time, about 10 months before we were finally cleared for the procedure.”
Now the Paparians are spreading the word about the procedure, which Cedars-Sinai began performing in 2005, according to a hospital blog. Only about 200 have taken place since then, and success rates are “in line with lower-risk compatible kidney transplants,” according to Dr. Stanley Jordan, medical director of Cedars-Sinai’s Kidney Transplant Program. Jordan “led the development of a process that greatly reduces the risk of the body rejecting a new kidney,” a process that “has been instrumental in the success of ABO incompatible transplants,” according to the blog.
Paparian told Cedars-Sinai that he initially resisted going on dialysis, and instead went on a “strict renal diet and even sought stem cell therapy in Florida. In October, however, he nearly collapsed while attending an event, and his doctor at Huntington Hospital told him he needed to begin dialysis.
Paparian served on the Pasadena City Council from 1987 (when it was known as the Board of City Directors) to 1999, including a term as mayor from 1995 to 1997. While serving as mayor, he visited Cuba and called for an end to the US. trade embargo against the communist-led island nation. In 2006, he ran for Congress on the Green Party ticket against Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, receiving 5.5 percent of the votes cast, or about 6,800 votes.
Bill and Sona met in 1981. Sona’s brother introduced them while she was visiting the United States from her hometown of Aleppo, Syria. According to the Cedars-Sinai blog, Bill and Sona “stayed up all night talking, causing Sona to miss her flight the next day back to Syria. Within two weeks, before Sona got on another flight home, Bill proposed to her, and they were married the next year on Valentine’s Day.”