PARK CITY – When a Utah man's cousin needed a kidney transplant, he was first in line to see if he could help. When he found out he wasn't a good match, he didn't give up on the idea.
Instead, he decided to be what's called a "nondirected donor," and that choice has triggered a chain of donations that could ultimately save dozens of lives.
His decision actually started years ago, when Henry Evans was dating his now-wife, Lisa. He watched her do what, at the time, seemed unthinkable.
"Lisa actually donated to her aunt about eight years ago," said Evans.
The couple had been dating a couple of years.
"It was so inspiring to see her donate her kidney and see the difference that it made in her aunt's life," Evans said. "Then, on the flip side of that, seeing how devastating dialysis can be for people."
So, when his cousin needed a kidney, Evans stepped up, only to get turned down due to his rare blood type. Most people might call it good, but not Henry.
"I was like, I was going to donate my kidney, so you know, let's still explore these options," he said.
Dr. George Rofaiel has been a transplant surgeon for nine years. He said he is still blown away by nondirected donors like Evans. Nondirected donors are living donors not related to or known by the recipient. He said the demand far outweighs the supply.
"There are about 80,000 people on any given day waiting for kidney transplants," Dr. Rofaiel said. "We do 16,000 transplants a year, so the numbers just don't even come close."
Evans and his wife, Lisa Wilkinson, said they think the need is so great partly due to lack of awareness.
"I don't know this for sure, but I guarantee you could go up to a bunch of people, really good people, and say, 'Hey, if it were really low risk and a pretty simple sacrifice, would you donate your kidney to get someone off dialysis and save their life,'" said Evans. "I think a lot of people might actually do it."
Dr. Rofaiel said the surgery is minimally invasive and not nearly as disruptive as it was even five years ago.
Evans is a firefighter. He planned to wait a few more weeks to go back to work, but for most people the recovery time is closer to a week.
I was like, I was going to donate my kidney, so you know, let's still explore these options.
Dr. Rofaiel said those waiting for transplants desperately need donors.
"We need those heroes who wake up and say, 'I am comfortable to help a loved one, or even better, I'm going to help our community,'" he said.
Wilkinson said her husband is a great guy who always thinks of others, so it didn't surprise her when he wanted to pursue donation, even when it was to a stranger.
"He's a pretty selfless guy," she said. "(He) doesn't even know this person, so it was wonderful to watch."
If you are interested in being a nondirected donor, you can go to organdonor.gov.