Thanks to a life-saving act of kindness through organ transplant, two dads who were once strangers are now great friends.
Chris Perez, 40, and Steve Sanders, 46, have developed an unbreakable bond after the former donated his kidney to Steve, who has a rare genetic condition known as uromodulin kidney disease (UKD).
Steve learned his kidneys were slowly failing. And unless he gets a transplant, he would need to undergo dialysis for the rest of his life—something he didn’t want to do as an active, single dad of two kids.
“I did not want to go on dialysis … If you go on dialysis, it’s really taxing on your body,” he explained.
Despite his condition, Steve is otherwise healthy and extremely active. He regularly goes to the gym and loves riding his mountain bike.
However, his kidney function is gradually declining.
“We were beginning to have conversations a few years ago about, well, ‘You may need to think about a transplant if these numbers continue to go down — or dialysis,'” Steve said about his doctor’s comments.
He talked to people who have been through dialysis, and they told him they were “wiped out” after every session.
“To hear how it has impacted their quality of life, that was frightening for me,” he said.
So, Steve took matters into his own hands and created a website to search for a kidney transplant donor. He also posted on social media, hoping someone would see it and respond to his call.
Eventually, his posts started getting attention, with at least 26 people submitting paperwork to become donors. However, nothing was coming through because people weren’t matches, or they stop the process early.
Steve doesn’t harbor any resentment toward those who did.
“I don’t fault them for that,” he said. “I completely understand.”
Still, he felt discouraged that nothing seemed to be working out. Steve thought he was going to have to start accepting the potential of dialysis at some point.
Luckily, he never got there. In late 2021, Steve got the news he had long been waiting for—he had an approved donor.
“It was a total relief,” Steve said when he heard the news. “I was happy that somebody was willing to give me a chance.”
Chris heard about Steve’s situation through his wife in July 2021. One of her co-workers had shared his story on social media, and she passed it along to Chris.
She asked him if he would consider donating a kidney, and he thought, “Sure, why not?”
A week later, his wife reminded him about filling out his paperwork. Chris started researching more about the kidney donation process, including its potential health and safety risks and how it would affect his quality of life.
“Once I felt satisfied with what I found, I downloaded the paperwork and I sent it in,” he said. “And then a couple of weeks later, they contacted me to start the process.”
Steve was a stranger, but that didn’t stop Chris from wanting to help him out as a fellow dad. He said that he would like someone to help him if he were in that situation.
“It’s really scary to think about. Here’s this serious health issue that you can’t control and is no fault of your own, yet could severely impact your quality of life and your ability to kind of see your kids grow up and spend time with them and things like that,” he said.
Chris also decided to donate his kidney to teach his kids about kindness and empathy.
“I always tell my kids that we need to work really hard to be kind for others and kind toward others,” he explained. “I really believe that at the end of the day, our kindness and the way we are compassionate toward others — that’s the legacy we leave behind after we’re long gone.”
Chris didn’t reach out to Steve until he was officially approved as a donor so as not to get anyone’s hopes up in case something didn’t go right.
Once Chris passed all the tests, the hospital asked him if he wanted to share his phone number with Steve, and he gave them permission.
Steve texted him the following day and asked to talk on the phone. The men expected to chat for about 15 minutes, but they ended up talking for over two hours.
Steve said they had an “immediate connection” and said Chris was “like an old friend.”
“It was like I knew this guy my whole life without ever meeting him. We clicked right away,” he said.
The men had plenty of similarities, helping them hit it off quickly. Their sons had the same names; they had similar backgrounds, and; they studied the same major in college.
Coincidentally, Chris worked as director of volunteer services at Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center, where his and Steve’s surgeries would take place.
In January 2022, the men underwent their surgeries, and the pair visited each other while in the hospital.
Even after the transplant, Steve and Chris have continued their friendship, with the latter saying that they text “almost daily.”
“I got a kidney, but I also got a really great friend out of this,” Steve said.
It is a real blessing to have someone willing to offer a literal piece of themselves to extend your life. Both Steve and Chris hope their story inspires other people to consider being a registered donor.
Click on the video below from Atrium Health to learn more about this incredible story of kindness.
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