After Harry Damon's son, Nick, died in a snowmobiling accident, the 55-year-old firefighter struggled to find a way to honor the son he calls "the light of my life."
"When you lose someone that you care for greatly, it's a terrible thing to go through," Harry explains. "There is a hole that can't be filled."
Harry knew he wanted to give something back in Nick's memory. After doing extensive research and speaking with the National Kidney Registry, Harry decided to give the ultimate gift: his own living kidney to a complete stranger.
Harry's donation started a chain-reaction — with sons donating on behalf of mothers, wives on behalf of husbands and even friends on behalf of friends — that has so far saved the lives of 10 people.
A chain starts when a person donates his or her kidney out of the goodness of their own heart. Harry's kidney, for example, is given to a recipient who had a donor willing to give a kidney, but was not a match. To add to the chain, the incompatible donor then gives his or her kidney to a stranger who has been identified as a match.
"I did not have any idea that it was going to be as successful a chain as it turned out to be," Harry explains.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, only 14,029 kidney transplants took place in the U.S. in 2013, compared to 99,201 people who are currently awaiting kidney transplants. On average, nearly 2,500 new patients are added to the list each month, and 14 people die each day waiting for a transplant.
Transplants from living donors may have several advantages over transplants from the deceased. The kidney usually functions immediately, making it easier to monitor, and potential donors can be tested ahead of time. Plus, the kidney spends less time outside of a living body, which improves the viability of the organ.
"If it hadn't been for Harry donating his kidney to start our chain, I would be dead," recipient Keenan Chung explains.
• Click here for more information about living donor kidney transplants.
• Click here to learn more about the UCLA Kidney Exchange Program.