MURRAY — Debbie Beck delivered a delightful message to her LDS home teaching recipients late last year. She informed the ailing Russell Maynes that she'd be saving his life.
Beck, a transplant nurse at Intermountain Medical Center, decided that she was going to provide a kidney to her friend and neighbor of five years, after he turned out to be one of her patients one day.
Maynes, 67, had been called in for a prospective transplant and the available cadaveric organ ended up not being good enough.
"We felt really sad that we had to send him back home that day," Beck said, recounting the story on Friday. "I felt bad because he was my friend. I worried about him."
She had cared for hundreds of patients in her 15 years at the hospital, but rarely, if ever, had she felt so inclined to be a real part of their recovery.
Without telling Maynes, Beck, 58, began the process to make sure her kidneys were healthy enough for her to be a donor, which takes several months. As a nurse, she knew the reality of the risks inherent to kidney donation — living with just one might compromise her health in the future and recovering from surgery wouldn't be easy.
"I felt inspired by God that it was something I should do," she said. Fortunately, the two ended up being the same blood type, A+, and everything went smoothly, including the four-hour transplantation surgery on Tuesday.
"Kidneys for transplantation are in short supply in this the country and most transplants are from deceased donors, so we feel very fortunate when we have live donors come forward and want to donate," said Dr. James Stinson, medical director for the hospital's kidney transplant program. "This is one of the very first times we've had someone intimately involved in our program donate a kidney, and we're very thrilled with the results."
The program transplants anywhere from 70 to 100 kidneys each year, 102 last year, and yet, there always exists a need for more.
"There are many more patients on the transplant list and on dialysis than we could possibly transplant in this country," Stinson said. Maynes' brother is one of them, still waiting for an organ after more than two years.
Maynes had been on the list for a year, which is about average in Utah, according to the doctor. Patients in other states, he said, typically end up waiting much longer — six to eight years in California.
"I could see it wearing him down," said Maynes' youngest daughter, Meg Taylor, 29. Physically, her dad could no longer pick up and play with her kids. "He's your dad, you look at him as a big, strong man and he couldn't do many of his usual things anymore, without feeling tired."
As a Type 2 diabetic, Maynes' kidneys were close to failure, and he kept expecting to be put on dialysis at any time. His 10 children, more than 40 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren were either not good matches or just weren't considered for donation because of genetics.
An emotional Beck said she knew a kidney was something she could give up for him.
"I knew he'd take good care of it because I've seen him at the gym all the time," she said.
From the day Beck told him, Maynes said he remained in a "daze." He didn't believe it would ever really happen and still has a hard time believing there is someone as kind as his sweet neighbor, who would help him and his family the way that she has.
"What greater gift can somebody give you than the gift of life?" he said. "Whatever I could give her, it is not enough."
Stinson said a live donor is best for transplant patients for a number of reasons, including a less-complicated surgery, a shorter hospital stay and a faster recovery, as the live kidney will start working more quickly in its new body after transplantation. Additionally, surgeries can be scheduled and are not as spontaneous, and long-term survival of a live kidney is significantly higher after five years.
"If one can find a live donor, you're much better off in the long run," he said.
Maynes is looking forward to spending more time with his family and riding his bicycle miles and miles around his Daybreak community, as he has done since he moved in about five years ago.
It was then that Maynes first met Beck. She was one of his first neighbors and is now a special part of the family.
"It really means a lot to me. I am eternally indebted to Debbie and her family," Maynes said.
The two were recuperating in their individual rooms at the hospital Friday, a couple doors away from each other, just like it is in their neighborhood.