PHOENIX — A Flagstaff family is extra thankful this Thanksgiving after receiving the gift of life. A search for a kidney donor started with family and friends, but the call for help eventually went global.
"Eventually got to the point where my kidneys were 12% functioning; they were that low," said Steve Beck.
For high school sweethearts Steve and Stephanie Beck, life without the other was never an option.
"I want him to have a good quality of life, and I could see that declining," said Stephanie.
"She said she wouldn't stop unless she found me a kidney," said Steve.
Twenty-one years ago, Steve was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease, where clusters of cysts cause kidney function to decrease.
"It seemed to really be affecting my energy and legs. That's where I noticed it a lot," he said.
In January, doctors noticed Steve's kidney function was declining. They told Steve it was time to start looking ahead and finding donors.
"It was a hard time for us because he would get discouraged," said Stephanie. "It's excruciating when it's a life or death situation waiting for something that's out of your control."
Stephanie went to work, using social media to reach out to friends, family, and complete strangers in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada.
"I posted to over 500 pages and groups, sites," she said. "Just posting and doing everything I could. We had a decal on the back of our car."
"She got up in the middle of the night sometimes to correspond with people in different time zones," said Steve. "It was amazing to watch. People don't realize it's extremely difficult to find a living donor."
Finally, in May, a miracle.
"Our angel," said Stephanie. "This beautiful person saw it and sent me a post saying, 'Hey, I filled out the health questionnaire.'"
That angel is Michelle Dennis of Mesa. A complete stranger who randomly came across a post that Stephanie had written.
"End of May, and I was scrolling through my Facebook, and it was Stephanie's post asking for a living donor for her husband who needed a kidney," she remembers. "I thought about it, and I thought this is a great way to help someone."
Michelle said it was the right thing for her to do. She spoke with her husband and family about it, did some research, and made the decision to donate her kidney.
"If you had the opportunity to help someone," she said. "You should. And that's all I wanted to do was help someone."
Before surgery, Michelle and Steve were able to meet face-to-face. The surgery itself took about three hours. Afterward, Michelle went and visited him in recovery.
"It was great," she said. "To see him in person, to touch him, and I walked up and gave him a hug. Instant family. To see him the next day, he was grinning from ear to ear. He was already happy, his numbers were better, that was the outcome that we wanted and that makes everything worth it."
"Having this new kidney has given my whole body a rejuvenation," said Steve. "Everything else is working the way it was supposed to."
Now, as both families give thanks this Thanksgiving, both said they have a new outlook on life.
"Every day is a gift," said Michelle. "I was already feeling that way, but to see someone else's life change. I want to live every day to its fullest, and if I can make a difference in someone's life every day in the smallest of ways, I want to take the opportunity to do that."
The Becks said Michelle and her husband are now family. And they are thankful that after 51 years together, this angel gave them the chance to have 51 more.
"She is just a miracle," said Stephanie. "She would be so gracious and kind and selfless to donate a part of herself, her body, to someone she doesn't even know so he can have a better life. It means everything to our family."
The Becks said so many people across the nation are waiting for an organ donor. Michelle said it's an extremely easy process, and the recovery is quick.
If you want more information, you can contact the Mayo Clinic at www.mayoclinic.org/livingdonor. There is a health questionnaire that you can fill out to establish eligibility.
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