By PAUL HARASIM
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
What they have offered to do -- donate a kidney to a stranger -- should not be regarded, they say, as "a big deal."
It is, they contend, just the "right thing to do" when you find out someone needs help.
K.J. Traina and Delores Johnston have never met.
Yet their reaction to a recent Review-Journal story on 27-year-old Doug Gold, a Wells Fargo banker who has had more surgeries than birthdays, shows not only their hearts are in the same place, but also how they express what's there.
Note how Traina, a hostess at Rao's, an Italian eatery at Caesars Palace, and Johnston, an administrator at Nevada Orthopedic & Spine Center, explain why they want to give an organ to an individual whose kidney failure has left him on dialysis and fighting to stay alive.
Traina: "I don't have a lot of money so I can't give a lot of money to charity. And I don't have a lot of time to make a difference. But I am in good enough health to donate a kidney to someone who needs it to live."
Johnston: "I don't have money to give away. I don't have any time to give to charity. I guess this is my way of trying to make a difference."
Gold is moved by their offers.
"They're better people than I am," he said Wednesday during a dialysis treatment.
To Dr. Ole Thienhaus, a psychiatrist and dean of the Nevada School of Medicine, the women illustrate the "self-actualization" concept in the late psychologist Abraham Maslow's "Hierarchy of Human Needs" theory.
In that theory, Thienhaus noted, after certain basic physiological, safety, social and ego needs are met, there is the "self actualization" need for individuals to become the person they feel capable of becoming.
"It's not in all people," Thienhaus said. "But in the best adjusted, most mature people there is a need to make a difference. It is why some people join the Peace Corps or volunteer in certain organizations or give to philanthropies. It's where you sit back and ask, 'How could I make the world a better place?' These women apparently feel that could be done by donating a kidney."
Both Traina and Johnston were reluctant to go public about their offers to Gold. But they did so to bring attention to the need for kidney donations.
Since 2008, the number on the waiting list has jumped from 80,000 to nearly 90,000.
Four thousand people a year in the United States die waiting for a kidney transplant.
Neither Traina nor Johnston see much risk in donating a kidney, saying they have either or talked to, or have seen media reports on individuals who have donated an organ and were back to work soon afterward.
"You only need one," said Traina.
"If you only need one, why not give the other to someone who needs it if you're healthy?" Johnston said.
But the procedure does have some risk. Up to 2 percent of donors suffer complications, according to the National Kidney Foundation, with 50 percent of those needing an operation. In 2005, the federal government estimated the chance of donor death at three in 10,000, after studying 46 years of the procedure.
Art Caplan, who has researched the ethics of transplantation as director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, said he doesn't want people to think that kidney donation is not a serious procedure.
"If the risk is so trivial," he said, "why are there so many transplant surgeons with two kidneys?"
Caplan said when he asks transplant surgeons that question, they often reply that they "have a family" or "can't be laid up from work that long."
"We view a live donation to a stranger as heroic. It goes beyond the ordinary ... but we want to make sure people who do this are doing it for strictly altruistic reasons, that they're competent. We want to make sure that they're not called to do this by religious voices or that they are guilt ridden and trying to atone for something they've done. Or that down the line they're going to ask for cash for what they've done."
Garet Hil, head of the National Kidney Registry, which advocates live donor kidney procedures, said he has similar concerns about potential donors.
"Our participating centers fully evaluate potential donors and disqualify those donors that are not physically or psychologically qualified to donate," Hil said.
Both Traina and Johnston say repeatedly they want to donate solely to save a life. It would make them feel they made a valuable contribution.
Debbi Gold, Doug Gold's mother, becomes emotional when speaking of potential donors. A family friend also has expressed interest in donating a kidney to her son, who was born with serious birth defects.
When Gold was 13, an uncle donated a kidney to him
"I've heard of strangers doing this, but I've never met someone like that," Debbi Gold said. "Even if this doesn't work out, if they're not compatible, I want to meet them."
Traina and Johnson must undergo testing overseen by a UCLA team.
Gold must have a kidney transplant at UCLA rather than University Medical Center or other transplant centers around the country because surgeons there are familiar with his urological abnormalities.
On Tuesday, Frank Pellegrino, the co-owner of Rao's, spoke about Traina.
"I'm so proud of her as a person, that we have her as an employee," said Pellegrino, who as a TV and movie actor has played his share of tough guys, including gangster Johnny Dio in the film "Goodfellas" and FBI agent Frank Cubitoso in "The Sopranos."
"I wish I had that kind of courage."
Contact reporter Paul Harasim at email@example.com or 702-387-2908.