Organ donor gives the gift of life-- twice

Published: Dec. 26, 2019 at 1:43 PM EST
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Joe Gilvary doesn't think of himself as a hero but few people have ever done what he did; he recently donated two organs to two strangers in need.

"Next to becoming a dad, this is the best thing I've ever done, best thing that's ever happened to me," Gilvary said. "It's an opportunity that I wish more people had."

Gilvary, who lives in Maryland, was not 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 own kidneys to the stranger in New York.

The recipient, Fred Howe, was suffering from kidney disease and running out of time. The donation saved Howe's life. He says he now thinks of Gilvary as a brother.

"I never thought that this would happen," Howe said, "could never have dreamt it. Could never have made this story up."

But the story doesn't end there.

"I told people afterward if I can do this again, I would," Gilvary said.

And so he did. Just a year after donating his kidney, Gilvary gave part of his liver to an infant in Ohio who was struggling to survive, Katelyn Kutscher.

"I just thought that it was amazing that a person would do that for somebody they don't even know," said Brittany Kutscher, Katelyn's mom.

The Kutschers had the opportunity to thank him in person after the surgery.

"He's got a really, really, really good heart," Brittany Kutscher said. "And he's family now."

The transplant was done at Cleveland Clinic using a minimally invasive technique. Dr. Koji Hashimoto, the director of Living Donor Liver Transplantation, hopes medical advances will encourage more people to consider donating.

"You can increase the safety of living donors," Hashimoto said. "I think that is very, very important for a healthy person who is thinking about organ donation."

Gilvary is now one of fewer than 50 people in the U.S. who have given twice as a living donor.

"I have connections to people that I couldn't have any other way," he said. "I just feel like I got to be a part of something so good."

Nearly 114,000 people in the United States are currently in need of a life-saving organ transplant.