What would you do if you knew you could give someone the gift of a longer life? LETU alumnus Charles Wesley, class of ’05, knew he could, and made what many would consider a drastic decision: to give one of his kidneys to a complete stranger.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, last year, there were 96,645 people awaiting lifesaving kidney transplants in the U.S. 16,812 transplants were made, 5,769 having come from living donors. Only 165 were, like Wesley, unrelated anonymous donors. 4,903 died while waiting for transplants.
Living donor recipients, on average, live 10 years longer than organ recipients whose donors have passed away.
Wesley’s decision was supported by mathematical logic: “I was investing about a month of my time in surgery recovery, and someone else would get, on average, another 10-15 years of life. That was a 100-times return on my investment, which was hard to argue with.”
The logistics were so compelling, it didn’t take long for him to decide to become a donor. His wife, Alexis, soon followed suit and planned her own kidney donation.
The Wesleys became America’s first married couple to become living organ donors through the National Kidney Registry, an organization that facilitates donor chains. Their donations started a chain that has, to date, saved 10 lives.
The couple doesn’t know the identity of their direct recipients other than age, gender and state, and Wesley said they’re open to finding out if the recipients initiate introductions, but it’s absolutely fine if they never know.
Upon being asked the reasoning behind his decision to donate, Wesley pointed to Ecclesiastes 7:2: “It is better to spend your time at funerals than at festivals. For you are going to die, and you should think about it while there is still time.”
“I realized that, at the end of my life, I wanted to have donated a kidney,” he said.
Wesley also points to his 6-year-old daughter, Laelia, as an inspiration. Born with Arthrogryposis, a joint and muscle condition, she has undergone 6 surgeries in her short life.
“I thought, if my daughter can do this, surely I can, too.” Wesley said.
The Wesleys also adopted their son, Roland, who also has the same condition as Laelia. The family lives in San Diego, where Alexis is currently recovering from her donation. Other than keeping slightly closer track of their sugar intakes and blood pressures, their lives continue as normal. The exception being that, for the Wesleys, “normal” now includes having saved lives.