Jacob McCulloch sipped a beer and said what he did for his friend Brandon Moran was no big thing.
The longer I sat in Moran’s North Las Vegas apartment and watched the 31-year-old friends laughing and talking about football, the more I hoped I could be as good a friend as McCulloch.
McCulloch donated a kidney to Moran last year after an illness left Moran on dialysis.
“In our quiet times I think we’d all like to believe we’d react as Jacob did,” said Dr. John Ham, the University Medical Center surgeon who performed the successful directed living donor transplant. “To sacrifice for a friend, as human beings we’re all touched by that.”
More than a year after the surgery, Moran said he is still in awe of McCulloch.
“I didn’t ask him to donate a kidney,” Moran said. “ It’s the greatest gift ever. It’s added years to my life.”
McCulloch said he lost track of Moran for a few months and was stunned when he learned his friend was on dialysis.
“It freaked me out,” said McCulloch, a warehouse supervisor with two children. “He was always so healthy, athletic. I don’t really know how to explain why I did what I did. I know I loved him as a person, and I wanted him to be healthy, like the person I knew in high school.”
Of the 78 transplants done at UMC last year, 71 were from deceased individuals registered as organ donors, people who wanted to give the gift of life upon their deaths. Just seven were from living donors. Ham, director of UMC’s Center for Transplantation, said five living donors have come forward this year.
“People live fine with one kidney,” he said.
According to government statistics, 37,910 organs of all types were donated in the United States in 2015. About one out of five were from living donors. Nearly 120,000 people are on waiting lists, with 80 percent waiting for a kidney. More than 20 people die each day waiting for a transplant.
Moran and McCulloch met at Cimarron-Memorial High School while taking a standardized test. They clicked as friends, ended up dating girls who were mutual friends. They would boat on Lake Mead, watch sports on TV.
“I come from a broken home, and Jacob helped me talk it out,” said Moran, who delivers Frito-Lay products. “He got married, and we had different hours so we didn’t see each other that much. But we’d be on the phone.”
In 2013, Moran had massive headaches. He went to an urgent care to get medication for what he thought were migraines. Tests showed the upper number in his blood pressure reading was over 200, that he was in hypertensive crisis.
After Moran was taken by ambulance to Valley Hospital, he underwent tests that found his kidneys had failed from a disease known as IgA nephropathy, which attacks the tiny filtering units inside the kidney where blood is cleaned. Doctors put him on home dialysis that allowed him to work. They couldn’t explain why he came down with the disease.
After Moran told McCulloch he was on a waiting list for a kidney — he was on dialysis for 18 months and losing strength — McCulloch began entertaining the idea of becoming a living donor. He was tested and found to be a universal donor.
“He was my best friend, like family, so I figured why not,” he said. “I really didn’t think about it much. I read you can live normally with one kidney, so why wouldn’t I want to give a friend his quality of life back?”
In May 2015 the transplant was done. Moran, who takes immunosuppressants so his body doesn’t reject the organ, feels like his old self. So does McCulloch, who’s amazingly nonchalant about what he has done.
“That’s what friends are for,” he said.
Paul Harasim’s column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Friday in the Nevada section and Monday in the Health section. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5273. Follow @paulharasim on Twitter.