Joshua Natale didn’t know fellow Aspen Valley Hospital employee Arturo Garcia all that well when Garcia came into the lab where Natale works for some blood work seven months ago.
Garcia, 32, had been diagnosed with rapidly failing kidneys in August and was on a waiting list for a transplant. Natale asked Garcia, who works in the hospital cafeteria, if he was having any luck finding a donor.
Soon after, Natale stepped up as a potential kidney donor. An evaluation showed that the 30-year-old would be a good match. When it was decided that another prospective donor, one of Garcia’s relatives, was not the right fit, Natale stepped up again.
The surgery, at Denver’s Porter Adventist Hospital, was performed in April. According to Garcia, it was a success. Doctors told him that Natale’s kidney started working immediately.
“It’s perfect,” Garcia said of the organ. “I have a new life. What he did for me was huge. I tell him he’s part of my family now. He’s not just a friend.”
As he explains it, Natale saved him from the trouble of having to drive to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction for dialysis treatments three or four times a week; dialysis is not available in the Roaring Fork Valley.
More importantly, Garcia said, Natale probably saved his life.
Natale is low-key about his sacrifice, which was not made in haste. In the months before the surgery, he did a lot of research on the effects of kidney donation. A lot of what he read — most of it on the Internet — was not positive.
There are risks associated with kidney transplants and many potential complications, as would be the case with any major surgery. Natale said he also was under a fair amount of pressure from well-meaning family members and friends not to proceed with the donation. They feared, wrongly, that he might be cutting his own life short.
Natale weighed the pros and cons and sifted through volumes of misinformation about the dangers associated with organ transplants. He understood that a person only needs one functioning kidney to live.
And so, when the time came for Garcia’s surgery, Natale was there.
Both men hope others will learn from their experience — that people considering an organ donation won’t succumb to fear. Slightly more than 100,000 people in the United States are currently on a waiting list for kidney transplants, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
MatchingDonors, a nonprofit group that helps those in need of organ transplants to find living donors, estimates that the average time to receive a deceased organ is seven to 12 years. Such connections are made nationally through a federal government database.
Fourteen people die every day while waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant, the foundation said.
“It’s not easy for anybody,” Garcia said of donating an organ or undergoing transplant surgery. “In the end, I got a good kidney. Usually people get them from a family member.”
Natale said most of his apprehension about the donation was superficial.
“One of the worst things you can do is search on Google,” he said. “But there are a lot of people out there who do want to help other people. I’ve talked with some people who had the same concerns that I had. I think it’s good for people to hear a story of a donation that succeeded, that turned out well.”