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Between Friends: Living Donors

It's a trend that's changing transplant medicine. More and more people are willing to donate a kidney or part of a liver - while they're still alive.

Doing a Favor for a Friend continued...

If Ken could do that for a stranger, Michael decided, he could surely do it for a friend.

But first, he had to convince his wife, who flat-out opposed the plan. Then he had to discuss his decision with his teen-age son. He told them both that donating part of his liver was not only important to him but something he felt he was supposed to do.

"I don't go to church but I have an inner vision," he says. "It's a gut feeling I get, and I believe it is the true voice of God speaking to me."

Next, he checked into the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville for four days of testing: a thorough physical, a liver biopsy, a tissue typing, and a mapping of his liver's arteries and veins. His tissue matched Steven's more closely than anyone had expected. "It was so close it was almost as if we were brothers, which was kind of strange," Steven says.

Michael met three times with the transplant team's psychiatrist. And each time the psychiatrist asked the same core question: Why did he want to give half of his liver to his friend? Michael gave the same answer each time: It feels right.

The night before the surgery, the two men shared a room. At 3 a.m., Michael was prepared for surgery. "When they took Mike away, I was just laying there, dazed, not really thinking too much about anything," Steven says. "I was nervous." Michael, on the other hand, was totally relaxed. His blood pressure was an unbelievable 100 over 70 with a pulse rate of 55 beats a minute.

More than 14 hours later, Michael woke to searing pain. "Someone asked me what it felt like, and I said it felt like they cut me in half and put me back together," he says.

The pain would last for weeks. Still, Michael says, he went home three days after surgery and felt well enough to host a cookout three weeks later. Steven was discharged a week after surgery but had to be readmitted for a second surgery to drain an abscess that had formed.

The men say their families grew closer after the transplant, though they were always friends. They try to get together every couple of months for dinner or a barbecue. In the past, they would have knocked back a few drinks to relax; no longer. Michael quit drinking a decade ago, and Steven credits his friend's healthy liver, in part, to that decision. So he's joined the diet-soda club, too.

"I want to treat Mike's liver as good as he treats it," Steven says. And I want to keep it as long as possible."

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