National Donor Day: Seattle donor talks about giving kidney to complete stranger

VIDEO: Seattle donor talks about giving kidney to complete stranger

SEATTLE — While Feb. 14th is most commonly known as Valentine’s Day, it’s also National Donor Day, a day to recognize the love and sacrifice of those who've given part their body to save someone's life.

KIRO 7 met up with a living donor who gave up his kidney to a complete stranger at the Swedish Transplant Center.

Jody Wilkins is very familiar with the Tree of Life at Swedish Hospital. It names living kidney donors like himself. He recently met up with dozens of others whose names are listed for giving up their kidney to someone in need.

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Wilkins is unique in that he voluntarily gave his kidney three years ago this week to a stranger.

“We do a lot of things that a lot of people don't get to do,” Wilkins said. “And because I was blessed with a body that just works really well, it was really easy for me to get a test back and just go, 'OK, that's confirmation.'”

Wilkins was inspired by a co-worker at his Bellevue software company who had done the same.Wilkins’ recipient chose to stay anonymous, and he is just fine with that.

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“The idea that I was able to change that one person's existence forever is really satisfying,” Wilkins said.

There are about 95,000 people nationwide waiting for a kidney and there's a three-to-five-year wait in western Washington.

“This is a great day for us to profoundly thank the donor families and also the living donors,” Swedish Living Kidney Program Medical Director Dr. Nidyanandh Vadivel said.

He explained how the growth of the National Pad Exchange program has made a big impact, causing chain reactions that can lead to more than 100 organ donations.

One donor may not match up with their loved one who needs a kidney because of blood type or tissue. But they can donate to someone else, starting a chain reaction of available kidneys to recipients with limitations.

Dr. Vadivel told KIRO 7 about a recent situation Swedish was a part of.

“There were four donors in four different states,” he said. "The kidneys were basically flying around with GPS in them.”

On The Tree of Life at Swedish, the names are people who gave up a kidney for a loved one.

When you see 'benevolent donor," that's someone who gave up a kidney to someone they don't even know. Swedish gets five to 10 of those per year.

Kidney donors are often back to full health within three weeks. Wilkins says he hasn't lost a step with just one kidney.  In fact, he's a faster marathon runner now than before.

And he had this advice for anyone considering donating an organ:

“Just take one step and find out could you do it,” Wilkins said. “Don't feel like you've got to run into that burning building and decide today.”

Click here or here for more information if you're interested in exploring becoming an organ donor.