SALT LAKE CITY — Right now, there are more than 100,000 people waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant in the United States. For many, the donation doesn't come soon enough, but sometimes people connect in a way they never expected.
Eight years ago, Maka Aulava was diagnosed with diabetes, a disease that can potentially cause many other health issues, including kidney failure. Then Aulava received a tough diagnosis in January of last year.
"They called me the next day and said, 'It's urgent you come see us,'" Aulava remembered. "(They said,) 'Your kidneys are not functioning correctly."
Aulava was diagnosed with kidney failure and faced a lengthy wait on the transplant list. Being sick gave him a lot of time to think, he said.
"Initially, (it's) just worry for my kids and my wife," Aulava said.
He thought about the things he wished he could do.
"During the winter, when I wasn't able to do things physically, and I'd see my wife shoveling the snow," he said through tears.
Years of sickness led Aulava to University Hospital. A kidney transplant could save this husband and father's life.
"What will it mean for them and will I be there for them?" Aulava remembered asking himself following his kidney failure diagnosis. He endured a year and a half on dialysis. "Twelve hours (of dialysis) a week, pretty much," he said.
One person who was there to support Aulava: Branden Seare.
"I don't like to be on the same camera with this guy because he's so good looking," Aulava told KSL with a laugh, motioning to Seare sitting beside his hospital bed.
Aulava first met Seare in 1995 while they were serving missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the New Jersey Morristown mission. They hit it off immediately.
"We taught a lot the same," Seare said. "We had a lot of the same philosophies on the mission. It was just really easy and we were buddies."
The two said they stayed in touch periodically throughout the years — and it's a good thing they did.
"I was just like, 'He's my brother and I'm here for you if you need something from me, a kidney or whatever, it's yours,'" Seare said.
Last week, Aulava needed Seare for that specific reason. One week ago, surgeons successfully transplanted Seare's kidney into the man he now calls his brother.
"I just knew he was going to be a close friend the rest of my life," Seare said.
"I felt the exact same way," Aulava replied.
It turns out the two men who were such a good match on their LDS church mission were a perfect match for something else.
Both men wanted to share their story because they hope to raise awareness about the need for kidney donation. To learn more about organ donation, visit yesutah.org.