SALT LAKE CITY — In his work as a nurse in University Hospital's pediatric dialysis unit, Bryce Garey cares for children whose lives are frequently interrupted by treatments.
"It's so hard to see some of these kids. They get so behind in life. They get behind socially, behind physically, in school," said Garey, a married father of two young children.
It was that experience — and media reports of a transplant chain in September — that moved 29-year-old Garey to become an organ donor himself.
Last week, Garey was one of three living donors who were part of a transplant chain that made possible transplants for two children and one adult at University Hospital.
Garey agreed to donate his kidney as a "non-directed donor," meaning there was no specific person in mind to whom he was donating.
As it turned out, Garey was a match for a child he has cared for in the dialysis clinic. That child's father was not compatible to donate to his own son, so he donated to another person. Once that person had a match, his donor was matched to another person on the transplant waiting list.
Dr. Jeffrey Campsen, University Hospital's surgical director for living donation, said Garey's donation opened up the possibilities.
"It was literally an a-ha moment. We're sitting at the table, the live donor working group, and it's, 'Hey, I think this chain can work,'" he said.
On Nov. 19, transplant teams conducted four surgeries, two to remove donor kidneys and two transplants. Two days later, another removal and transplant were completed, completing the donation chain.
Garey said his personal decision to become a live donor "was not difficult at all."
"It's been in the back of my mind for a long time," he said.
Garey's wife, Josie, initially had reservations about how his donation might affect their young family's future.
"To be perfectly honest, I freaked out about it at first," she said. "He didn't push it. He made sure I was comfortable with it. To be honest, I prayed a lot about it."
After learning more about the procedure, Josie Garey supported her husband's decision.
"I could tell how much it meant to him," she said.
Bryce Garey downplayed his role in the chain, saying, "I don't feel like a magic person or anything."
More than anything, he said, he hoped to meet the recipient. As Bryce Garey spoke to the Deseret News, Josie Garey was told the recipient's name. She, in turn, whispered the name in her husband's ear.
He paused a moment to take in the news.
"It's special. It's very special. I feel like I've received more than was given," he said.
As Utahns learn more about transplant chains and the need for donation, Bryce Garey said he hopes they, too, will become donors.
Nationwide, some 115,000 people are on organ transplant waiting lists, with 85,000 of them awaiting kidney transplants, said Bruce Garrett, paired kidney exchange coordinator at University Hospital.
"To me, that's why kidney donation is so important," Garrett said.
Humans are "built with four times more kidney than you need," Campsen explained.
Donors must be at least 18 years old, and potential donors undergo rigorous testing.
"Our priority is donor safety," Campsen said.
Matches are based on blood types and antibody status, among other factors.
While Bryce Garey may downplay his role in the chain, Campsen said his willingness to donate his kidney made three transplants possible.
"He does so much for other people every day. He wanted to do more. He's a good guy," Campsen said, noting that Bryce Garey is also an Army reservist.
For more information about the University of Utah's Kidney Transplant Program, call 801-585-5642 or visit healthcare.utah.edu/transplant/kidney/.
Intermountain Donor Services can be reached at 800-833-6667 or at idslife.org.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company