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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Dr. Diane Alonso, director of Intermountain Medical Center's transplant program, hugs Rex Leetham, who donated one of his kidneys to a stranger, during a organ transplant celebration at the Murray hospital on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. In 2017, surgeons at the hospital performed 172 organ transplants — 98 kidneys, 52 livers, 14 hearts and eight kidneys/pancreases.

MURRAY — As Intermountain Medical Center marked a milestone year for organ transplants, Steve Baldridge offered a simple reason for donating a kidney to his neighbor.

"She needed it more than I did. I had one that I could spare," Baldridge said Tuesday, as families of donors and recipients gathered with medical center staff to celebrate a record number 52 liver transplants in 2017. The center also transplanted 98 kidneys, eight kidneys/pancreases and 14 hearts.

After learning just over 10 years ago that Pixie Wallace needed a kidney but had not yet found a match, Baldridge said, it took him 45 minutes to decide that he would offer her one of his.

Three months later, they both underwent surgery.

Though Wallace passed away 4 1/2 years after receiving the kidney transplant, Baldridge said she had "a good ride up until the end."

"It's a very bonding experience … you become very close to your recipient or your donor," he said. "When she died, it was one of the hardest things."

Nevertheless, "if I had another kidney to donate, I would do it again," he added.

Intermountain Medical Center officials attribute its record-breaking year to innovations, resources and donors as well as "the dedication of transplant clinicians."

Richard Gilroy, medical director of the center's liver transplantation program, says that the program has the potential to be, and "will be," among the top 10 in the U.S. within the next five years.

"This year has been really, really amazing for us … We're really proud of ourselves as well as extremely happy of being able to give people back their lives and get them back to their families," said Diane Alonso, director of Intermountain Medical Center's transplant program.

David Cooper, a kidney and pancreas transplant recipient, also told his story during the emotional event. He was on dialysis for about a year and had Type 1 diabetes for about 16 years. A father of five children, he called this time "a life of uncertainty."

Waiting on the transplant list, he said, is "deeply spiritual." When he found out that there was a kidney and pancreas for him, it dawned on him that "someone has made a tremendous choice. Someone has made a brave and selfless act to make something possible for me."

"I feel so much stronger. I feel like someone is along the way on the rest of this journey with me," Cooper added. "Miracles come from individuals."

Another recipient, Marilyn Allred, received a heart transplant four years ago — after being in heart failure since 1995.

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Her new heart, she said, has enabled her to care for her children. And every year, she thinks of a donor whose identity she does not know.

"It's kind of an emotional roller coaster for me," she said. "I have no idea who my donor is, but maybe someday it will come about … they are the one that says yes, and I always have to remember that."

More than 116,500 people wait on the national transplant list, according to Intermountain Medical Center officials. Of those, over 700 are Utah residents.

Utahns can register to become organ donors online at Yes Utah.