For 15 years, transplant nurse Debbie Beck watched patients mostly strangers come and go.
That was, until one day last summer, when a familiar face entered her unit.
It was her neighbor, who had rushed to the hospital after hearing it was his turn, finally, to receive a new kidney. He spent the whole day anticipating the transplant from someone who had died, only to learn that the organ wasn't a match. He ultimately left Intermountain Medical Center and went home to South Jordan.
Beck couldn't stop thinking about her neighbor's plight. She couldn't get over the feeling of sadness at sending him home without a new kidney.
So she decided to give him hers.
"I just prayed about it, thought a lot about it, and felt like it was the right thing to do," recounted Beck, 58, just three days after the successful transplant between her and her neighbor Russell Maynes, 67. She paused between words Friday, her voice unsteady with emotion. "One day I was just sitting down and thinking about Russell, and I felt like inspired by God that it was something I should do."
Intermountain Medical Center's transplant team typically performs about 70 to 100 kidney transplants a year, but it's not typical for one of their own to be so intimately involved, according to James Stinson, medical director of the hospital's kidney transplant program. Stinson said the average wait for kidneys, which usually come from cadavers, is about a year at Intermountain. He said there are far more people waiting for kidneys in the U.S. than there are opportunities to perform transplants.
"Kidneys for transplantation are in short supply in this country and most transplants are from deceased donors," Stinson said, "so we feel very fortunate when we have live donors come forward and want to donate."
He said it's much better to get a kidney from a living person, as living donations have a higher success rate. He called Beck's and Maynes' story "exceptional."
Beck kept her plan a secret from Maynes until she had taken the necessary steps with the hospital to know their blood types were a match one of the more important factors in live kidney transplants, Stinson said.
She finally told him around Christmas.
"He was surprised," Beck said. "His wife and I were hugging and crying."
Maynes, known as the rock of his family, tried not to get too hopeful at first. He had, after all, already experienced a false alarm and knew how many people were still waiting for kidneys. His own brother has been on the list for years.
"I still was kind of in a daze, and I thought, 'Is this real?' " said Maynes, who is diabetic.
But it was real.
As a transplant nurse, Beck knew all too well the risks associated with a kidney transplant. Stinson said kidney donors can expect to live normally long lives after donating. But, as with any surgery, there are risks. And, of course, she would be left with only one kidney for the rest of her life.
Beck said the experience was more difficult than she anticipated. But she said she had confidence in the transplant team, her co-workers. Plus, she said, she knew her kidney would be in good hands with Maynes.
"I knew he'd take good care of it because I see him at the gym all the time," Beck said. She also joked that as the Maynes' LDS home teachers, "We don't just take cookies."
For Maynes, who waited for a new kidney for about a year, there aren't enough words to adequately thank his neighbor.
"You think, 'Well, what greater gift can someone give you but the gift of life," Maynes said, "and especially when it could be their own life that they're willing to put on the line to give you the ability to be with your family and your friends."
Nancy Harris, one of Maynes' daughters, said she always knew Beck was an "amazing person." They've known each other since the Becks and Maynes moved into the same neighborhood about five years ago. Harris' son plays with Beck's grandson.
"It's an amazing gift to give someone," Harris said. "This gives us time and memories."
Maynes, a father of 10, grandfather of 40 and great-grandfather of three, knows well the value of time. He now looks forward to years of high school graduations, missions, weddings and births.
"For me," he said, "it means that I get to be with them for a lot longer."
Become a living kidney donor
O To find out more about how to become a living kidney donor, go to http://www.yesutah.org/content/livingdonation . Donors can go on to live normal, long and healthy lives with just one kidney.