After more than a year of suffering from Stage 5 kidney failure, Eddie Beatrice decided to look online for a kidney donor.
"It was Jan. 1  and I said, 'Today is the day I'm going to take back control of my life,' " said Beatrice, 51, of North Reading, Mass.
Kelly Wright, 44, of Newport Beach, decided it was time to give someone else another chance at life after seeing the Donate Life float at the Rose Parade that same day.
"I really wanted to do that for someone," Wright said. "I thought it would be a wonderful thing to give someone their life back."
Beatrice and Wright connected that day through the Kidney Donor Network's Facebook page. Then, in April, they underwent surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital.
They are now recovering.
Wright has always been a risk taker, said Gerry, her husband of 17 years.
Once she convinced her husband to take over most of the family duties for one year so she could train for the Ironman Triathlon. She also convinced him to quit his job and move to Wisconsin so she could attend veterinary school.
Then she announced she was going to donate her kidney to someone she had never met, someone who lived thousands of miles away.
"I was concerned about her health and how our family would deal with the decision that she made," said Gerry Wright, 52.
He knew, however, there was no point in trying to change his wife's mind.
"She is stubborn," he said. "If she has her mind made up, it will be difficult to change. Whether it's buying a couch, [doing] Ironman or donating a kidney. Once she commits to something, there's no turning back for her. That's a quality not a lot of people have."
Beatrice had been in end-stage renal failure for more than a year after rotator cuff surgery sent him into septic shock.
"They were reading me my last rites," he said. "I was on life support, and they called my kids in from college."
Beatrice had spent more than three straight months at Massachusetts General Hospital and afterward had been going to dialysis for four hours a day, three times a week.
"Dialysis stinks, but it's better than the alternative," she said. "Without it I would have been dead in three to four days."
Wright had considered donating a kidney in the past but wanted to wait until her children were older.
"I explained to [my kids] that Eddie was a nice person who had a family that needed him," Wright said. "So mommy was going to give him something that she had two of so that he could spend time with his kids."
The Wrights adopted their son, Joey, when he was an infant and their daughter, Maggie, when she was 2. They are both now 9, and the Wrights said they felt they were old enough to understand the situation.
"That's the message that I want them to get from it," she said. "That you can do things for people, and it's not necessarily something you're going to get rewarded for."
After meeting with Beatrice, Wright started a two-month process of screenings, extensive lab work, CT scans, X-rays and a psychological evaluation necessary to proceed with a kidney donation.
"A very extensive evaluation takes place [for donors]," said Wendy Escobedo, transplant program manager of the Kidney Transplant Center at St. Joseph Hospital of Orange.
St. Joseph has a waiting list of 165 people, and more than 90,000 people are waiting for transplants nationwide, she said.
Wright's case is unusual because most donors know their recipients beforehand.
"A majority of donors know who they want to donate to and know a recipient very closely," Escobedo said. "It doesn't happen very often but there are people who want to do something nice for humankind."
The idea, however, has been hard for some closest to Wright to swallow.
"It hasn't been easy," Wright said. "The physical challenges for me haven't been so difficult as the emotional challenges regarding [people's perception of] ... why I would want to do this. Feeling like I have to defend it. That's been difficult."
Wright said she is not speaking to some family members who don't agree with her decision.
"It's not considered a normal thing to want to do, which is kind of sad," Wright said. "You just have to put aside what other people will think of you and do what you feel is right in your heart."
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