NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Organ donation is the gift of life for many desperately ill people, including Fred Howe of Dyker Heights, who was saved by a stranger.
Howe’s liver donor, Joe Gilvary, is one of the few who’ve given the gift of life — not once, but twice. But he still doesn’t think of himself as a hero.
“Literally next to becoming a dad, the best thing I’ve ever done, best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said.
Gilvary admits that’s a pretty big statement, “but it’s an opportunity that I wish more people had,” he said.
Gilvary, who lives in Maryland, wasn’t even a registered organ donor when he read a desperate plea for a kidney in an online prayer group. He was so moved, he offered one of his to the stranger in Brooklyn — Fred Howe, who was suffering from kidney disease and running out of time.
“I’m sort of overwhelmed,” Howe said.
The donation saved Howe’s life. He thinks of Gilvary now as a brother.
“I never thought that this could happen, couldn’t have dreamt it,” said Howe. “Couldn’t have made this story up.”
But the story doesn’t end there.
“I told people afterwards, if I can do this again, I would,” said Gilvary.
And he did. Just a year after donating his kidney, Gilvary gave part of his liver to an infant in Ohio — Brittany Kutscher’s daughter, Katelyn — who was struggling to survive.
“I just thought that it was amazing that a person would do that for somebody they don’t even know,” said Kutscher.
The Kutschers had the opportunity to thank Gilvary in person, after the surgery.
“He’s got a really, really good heart. He’s family now,” Brittany Kutscher said.
The transplant was done at Cleveland Clinic using a minimally invasive technique. Dr. Koji Hashimoto hopes these medical advances encourage more people to consider donating.
“You can increase the safety of living donor,” he said. “That is very, very important for a healthy person who is thinking about organ donation.”
Gilvary is now one of less than 50 people in the U.S. who have given twice as a living donor.
“I have connections to people I couldn’t have any other way,” he said. “And I feel like I got to be a part of something so good,” like giving a grandfather more time to spend with his family and a little girl the chance to grow up.
The American Transplant Foundation says more than 100,000 people in the U.S. are currently on a waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant.