Thomas Silver never waffled. Never had a second thought – even as surgeons prepared to slice him open and remove one of his kidneys for donation to a complete stranger.
People like Silver, a 55-year-old Wal-Mart shelf stocker in Newport, Wash., are called altruistic donors in the world of organ transplants. To the sick and suffering, Silver is simply a hero.
About 18 people die each day across the country awaiting a kidney.
So Rick Anhorn is one of the lucky ones.
“Tom gave me an awesome gift,” Anhorn said.
Meeting for the first time this week at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, the two men gave each other a big hug and began sharing stories that illustrated how their lives intertwined.
Anhorn worked as a banker, didn’t take good care of his body and fell ill with type 2 diabetes.
He had been on dialysis for years as his kidney functions failed.
“Three days a week, three to four hours each time,” he said of his routine. “Our lives revolved around my dialysis.”
For the past five years his life was static. He didn’t get much exercise. He worried that his physical and cognitive abilities had slumped.
He kept reading Scripture and believing that something positive would happen.
“I just kept plowing forward,” he said.
Both Anhorn and Silver are Mormons, and that’s just one similarity. They stand taller than 6 feet. They are 55. Both have remarried and have children.
Silver’s inspiration to donate a kidney came from his wife, Robin.
She gave her kidney five years ago to family friend Blaine Bauer, a widely beloved math teacher in Newport.
Her gift helped Bauer lead a better life until he died last week from throat cancer.
It remains an act of courage and generosity, her husband said, squeezing her hand tight.
So Silver signed up to give his kidney to his wife’s cousin. That didn’t work out, so he told physicians that he would be willing to give to a stranger.
Such donations are rare. Of the 50 to 60 kidneys donated in the region each year, half are from living donors and many of those are from people undergoing the surgery to help a friend or family member.
At the same time, Anhorn touched the top of the local transplant waiting list where 245 people have pinned their hopes. He is among 50 percent of those who need a kidney because of diabetes.
He can expect Tom’s kidney to last 10 to 15 years.
Eight months after surgery, Anhorn said he feels better than he has in many years.
“You’re working excellent, Tom,” Anhorn said, breaking into a laugh and patting the left side of his abdomen.
Silver had the worst of the transplant.
While Anhorn was sewn shut with his new kidney intact and sent home within 46 hours, Silver came down with pneumonia and had his hospital stay stretched.
He says it was all worth it.
“This is something I felt I had to do,” he said. “I encourage others to do the same.”