MADISON, Wis. -- A Madison man has donated his kidney to a stranger he might never meet.
Tim Nelson's decision to become a living donor set off an organ donation chain that gave life to four recipients. Almost a year ago, Nelson decided he was going to do something incredible. Only to him, it was an easy decision."I got a great job. I got great wife. I got a great life. I have nothing holding me back," Nelson said. "(University of Wisconsin Hospital) was very concerned that I would have the surgery, get done, and say, 'Oh my God, why did you guys take my kidney?'"At 31, Nelson decided he would donate his kidney to a stranger."He just sort of mentioned it, and I was like, OK, not really thinking he really ever would," said his wife, Nicole Nelson, who directs "News 3 at 10."Nicole Nelson said she had reservations. Two years ago, she was away from work for seven weeks after an operation of her own."After what I went through, it was not a walk in the park. And so I thought, 'Why would you want to go through a surgery if you didn't have to?'" Nicole Nelson said.But she said her concern faded into encouragement with one piece of news."I said to Nicole, once I found out how many people were involved, I said this is the greatest thing I'll ever do," Tim Nelson said.
About six weeks ago Tim Nelson's early morning surgery set off a chain reaction that would save four lives.
"What we're trying to do through the National Kidney Registry is to impact the life of as many people as possible," said Dr. Luis Fernandez, Nelson's transplant surgeon.After two hours of surgery, Fernandez removed Nelson's kidney, cleaned the organ and packed it for a 700-mile trip.From the hospital, a courier took Nelson's kidney to the Dane County Regional Airport, where a chartered Learjet arrived minutes later.From the airport, the jet traveled to Richmond, Va. -- a flight time of about an hour and 20 minutes -- where a waiting recipient got another chance at life.Six weeks after receiving Nelson's kidney as her own, Virginia music teacher Carleen Ramsey, 64, said she sees life in a whole new way."I'm not slowing down, no. I have too much left to give," Ramsey said. "I feel so much better and have noticed such a difference every day that it's been encouraging. Being with the family, whether we're at home or wherever we are, I'm going to cherish every moment because you don't take things for granted; you just can't."But the story of lives touched by Nelson's gift didn't end on the East Coast. Cameron Evans, a family friend, wasn't a match for Ramsey, but because someone gave life to her friend, she decided to pass her kidney on to someone else."There were obviously other people out there who were feeling the need to give and wanting to give and we were all kind of in it together, even if we didn't know each other," Evans said.Evans' kidney was transported to California, where another loved one who wasn't a match also donated a kidney.That kidney came to Madison and UW Hospital, where the process repeated itself one more time. Carol Peterson was at the end of the chain."And here I was, I thought I was going to get a kidney from a cadaver, and I got this phone call out of the blue," Peterson said. "I was just amazed there was a live donor out there that wanted to give someone a kidney."Fernandez called it a perfect cycle of life and love."Multiple pairs that were incompatible to each other, now, through this system, were capable to get transplanted," Fernandez said. "What my patient in particular did is of extraordinary value."That patient, Nelson, is back at work. He said he would give another kidney if he could."The fact that I'm out of work for three weeks, and back to running in five, and out of the hospital in two days, eating whatever I want again within the first week, that's ridiculous. It's like it never even happened. It's like a small hiccup in my life, and that small hiccup has affected four people's lives forever. It's ridiculous," Nelson said. "There's no way I can look back on my life and say, 'You wasted it; you did nothing with you life.' Because with this one single act, I did. I will never have that question."All four recipients in the chain, including the one in California and another from Illinois who had surgery in Madison are doing well. Doctors said it was a complete success that began because of one man's willingness to give.Since paired kidney exchanges began three years ago, there have been 276 transplants. The longest chain was 22 people long.Nationwide, more than 109,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant. Those interested in donating organs can still get the orange sticker for their driver's license at the Department of Motor Vehicles. People can also learn more about becoming a living donor, like Nelson, at yesiwillwisconsin.com.
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