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A Transplant Story

One of my tasks last week was to begin working on an article about Angel Flight Soars, a wonderful nonprofit organization that arranges free air transportation for people in the South who need to travel far distances to receive life-saving medical treatment, but lack the financial means to pay for the expensive flights themselves.

For the patient profile, Angel Flight Soars suggested I contact Loren, a man from Darien, Georgia, who had recently had a successful kidney transplant in Birmingham, Alabama. Loren chronicled his struggles with diabetes and high blood pressure. Like so many Americans, life was good — he was working two jobs and supporting his family — when severe health problems came knocking. He grew weak and lost his ability to work.

“I have always been strong and independent, then all of sudden I had to ask for help from others,” he said. “That was very hard for me.”

Three times each week, he drove to a dialysis center 45 minutes from his home to receive dialysis lasting almost four hours each. Then he had to drive home.

“Staying alive became my full-time job,” he said.

Loren was accepted onto the transplant lists of three major hospitals in Jacksonville, Charleston, and Atlanta when he experienced a weird encounter with a stranger in Walmart.

“When I was out in public, I wore a shirt or hat telling people I needed a kidney and asking them to consider being a donor,” he said. “As I came out of Walmart, a stranger came up to me and said, ‘Are you on the transplant list in Birmingham?’ And I said, ‘No.’ The woman looked right into my eyes and said, ‘Get on the Birmingham list. That’s where your kidney is going to come from.’” The following week, Loren filed the necessary paperwork to get on Birmingham’s transplant list.

“They tell you to pack a bag and be ready for the call,” he told me. “Because when they call, you only have a few hours to get to the hospital for the surgery.”

Loren prayed for a kidney. He knew that the day he got the call would be one of the happiest days of his life — a second chance at living — but there was a sad, painful component, as well. A call would also mean that someone, somewhere, had suddenly lost his or her life.

Then Loren’s phone rang. Just as the stranger had predicted, there was a kidney in Birmingham, and doctors were ready to transplant it into the Darien man if he could get to the hospital in three hours.

He tried to arrange transportation on his own, but the costs were astronomical, and he had to forfeit the kidney. Loren was devastated. That’s when someone on Facebook told him about Angel Flight Soars, and he signed up for the organization’s assistance.

Then in March last year, Loren got another phone call — another kidney awaited him if he could get to the hospital in Birmingham in a matter of hours. A volunteer pilot dropped everything, met him at the airport in Brunswick, and flew him over there. After doctors put the kidney into Loren’s body, his body rejected it.

“I came back home,” he told me. “It was a dark time for me. Not only had the transplant failed, but because of the coronavirus, I was isolated from so many people I love. I knew I had to have hope, keep believing, have faith, and be patient.”

He got another call last November. Again, an Angel Flight Soars volunteer flew Loren to Birmingham on a small private plane. That transplant was a success, and Angel Flight Soars has flown Loren to Alabama several times for checkups since the surgery. It looks like the stranger at Walmart was right. There was a kidney waiting for Loren in Birmingham — three matching kidneys, actually.

During our phone call, Loren relived the ordeal — standing on the edge of where life meets death and not knowing if he’d make it or not; the multitude of setbacks; and how dramatically his life was changed by his failing health. Through the entire interview, there was such a strength in his voice, and then I asked my final question.

“Did you become friends with the volunteer pilots?” I asked. “How do you feel about the men who flew you over there?”

There was complete silence after the question left my lips. I thought my cell phone had dropped the call, but then I real- continued from page

ized Loren was trying to regain composure after a sudden swell of emotion.

“They have become part of my family,” he said through tears. “Their kindness — I’m so grateful for all they’ve done for me, but how do you say thank you for saving a life? My life? How do you thank someone for that?”

It wasn’t Loren’s recollection of his personal struggles and pain that brought his tears, but the kindness of strangers who chose to help — to serve.

I understand the tears. Kindness gets me every time. Maybe it’s because there’s not as much kindness in the world as there used to be, and so when I see it, hear about it, or experience it, like Loren, I can’t control my emotions.

I’m so glad that Loren is doing so well and is sharing his story — a story of never giving up and accepting kindness and help during the darkest times of life. To learn more about Angel Flight Soars, visit www.angelflightsoars. org.

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