Another WNYer Steps Forward To Donate A Kidney To A Stranger

5:07 PM, Feb 28, 2013   |    comments
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ELMA, N.Y. - Our story really begins more than 35 years ago when two kids from Tonawanda, Greg Emminger and Pete Steffan, played little league baseball together.

They are right next to each other in a picture from 1975, Pete was a catcher and Greg played left field

Over the years, Pete and Greg got on with their lives and as often happens in life, they lost touch with each other.

Then just over a year ago, Pete was on Facebook one day when he saw a story we at 2 On Your Side did involving his old teammate Greg.

Greg had decided to donate one of his kidneys to a total stranger, someone Greg had found through a website called the Western New York Kidney Connection.

And what Greg did - literally helping to save someone's life - well that really struck a chord with Pete.

Pete Steffan: "I called Greg up right away and he told me all about it and it was at that point that I really got interested in doing something like this."

Scott Brown: "What did Greg tell you about his experience?"

Pete Steffan: "He told me that he was humbled by his experience, he actually told me that he got more out of it than the recipient did because he saw the emotion, he saw how he had changed someone's life."

Meanwhile, what Greg had done, inspired Diane Bookhagen of Springville to donate one of her kidneys to a stranger, and we followed Diane and her recipient Mitch Stone through their transplant at ECMC.

Pete saw that story as well, and that really got him thinking.

Then, watching Diane and Mitch's story inspired Lisa Brennan of Williamsville to donate one of her kidneys to a good friend of hers.

And yep, Pete saw that story too.

Pete Steffan: "This pay it forward process is amazing to me and I decided that I wanted to be a part of it."

So Pete went to the Kidney Connection website. He thought he had a recipient lined up, but it didn't work out.

He then went to the National Kidney Registry, where he was matched with someone from Baltimore. Pete didn't know anything about the person, other than he was badly in need of a kidney.

Throughout this whole time, Pete been speaking with Greg, his old little league teammate about what he could expect as he went through the process.

About two weeks before Christmas everything was set.

Pete and his wife Cheryl were all set to drive down from their home in Elma to the Cleveland Clinic where the next day Pete would be operated on.

Pete Steffan: "I think the true meaning of a gift is not to have any expectation on it, and at this time of year, Christmas it's really a wonderful thing to do."

Unlike the other stories we had done, where the donors got to meet their recipients because they were at the same hospital and had chosen them through the Kidney Connection, because Pete's donation was taking place through the National Kidney Registry, he was not likely to ever find out who was getting his kidney.

Pete Steffan: "I may never meet that recipient, but I know I've done a good thing. And if one person watching this telecast decides to make a move and donate a kidney, then that's the 'pay it forward' process that really touches people and that's what this is all about." It's not about me.

And with that, Pete and Cheryl began the drive to Cleveland, part of a journey he'd been thinking about taking for months, and one that would change a stranger's life forever.

At 7:30 in the morning on December 11th, Pete Steffan was wheeled into operating room five at the Cleveland Clinic.

After about four hours of surgery, his left kidney was removed, it's about the size of a fist.

Kidneys which come from living donors have the best chance for success in a transplant.

Pete's kidney was packed in ice, put in a cooler and then flown to Baltimore where just a few hours later it was implanted into his recipient - quite a Christmas gift for whoever was getting it.

Even better, Pete's donation through the National Kidney Registry had triggered a chain of five other donations.

The day after surgery, Pete was doing great, he was on some pain medication but was resting comfortably.

Pete Steffan: "Everything's great so far, couldn't ask for a better result. It's really so much bigger than me, I'm just glad I'm healthy enough to do it."

And what of Pete's kidney?

It was flown to the University of Maryland Medical Center where it was implanted in a man who had already had one kidney transplant four years ago, but his body was rejecting that kidney and so he was badly in need of another transplant.

Here at 2 On Your Side, as each one of our stories on living kidney donors has led to another person being inspired to become a donor, our goal has been to increase awareness about kidney donation. With that in mind, we reached out to the hospital in Baltimore to see whether the person who had received Pete's kidney would be interested in meeting him as we told Pete's story.

The recipient said he would.

His name is Paul Plott, in the months prior to the transplant, he had lost about forty pounds and he was having trouble walking - his legs and feet were badly swollen because his one working kidney was shutting down.

We arranged for Paul and Pete to "meet" through a satellite hook up where Pete came to our studios at Channel 2 and Paul went to our sister station in Baltimore.

Although Pete and Paul had by this time already spoken to each other on the phone, this would be the first time they'd actually be able to see each other.

Pete Steffan: "Paul how are you feeling?"

Paul Plott: "Pete I'm doing great, I've gained some weight which is very good."

Pete Steffan: "You look great, you look like you went through everything very well. The thing that was amazing about this was Paul you were the first kidney to be received but there was a chain of six people who received kidneys from this. That to me makes it so much bigger than me and I'm just humbled by the whole thing. It's just wonderful, you know?"

Paul Plott: "It's funny I just said that a few minutes ago to someone here, how humbling the experience is. And you started that, you got nothing out of this."

Pete Steffan: "I'm just a follower not a leader but it's really an amazing story it really is. I'm so happy for you Paul that you look great and you're doing well."

Paul Plott: "Thank you, thank you so much. Again a debt I can never repay."

Pete Steffan: "There's no need even for that way of thinking, we're brothers from another mother, just think of it that way now, OK Paul?"

After the two new "brothers" had spoken, I had a few questions for them...

Scott Brown: "I know you guys had spoken before today but what was it like to actually see him?"

Paul Plott: "The whole thing has been very humbling. You sit here looking at a person who for no benefit to him, decided to give a gift that has me alive today. It's very humbling."

Scott Brown: "What was it like to actually see Paul?"

Pete Steffan: "When I saw his smiling face - it was the right thing to do. I've known it was the right thing to do all along, but now I've seen a smiling face and I'll never forget seeing him smile like that. I wasn't here to save someone's life I was just here to follow what other people had done. Greg and Diane I think those are the real heroes, and Lisa for what they have done and hopefully someone will see this and react the same way and then I might feel a little bit different if I see someone else do this."

Scott Brown: "It's kind of wild when you look back to that little league picture isn't it?"

Pete Steffan: "Yeah maybe it was meant to be in 1975 who knows how things work out? I don't believe in accidents, I really don't. Greg and I were right next to each other in that picture. I'm just thankful, filled with gratitude that I could do it."  

After the two new "brothers" had spoken, I had a few questions for them...

 

After the two new "brothers" had spoken, I had a few questions for them...

 

After the two new "brothers" had spoken, I had a few questions for them...

 

For more information on living donors:

http://www.wnykidneyconnection.org/ 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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