It’s hard to believe that Sid Kirkland and Betsy Justice were practically strangers a decade ago. Today, the former coworkers are not only close friends—they are also bonded for life. “I’ll always have her back,” Kirkland said. “And she will always have mine.”

In 2008, Kirkland, now a Realtor-Broker with Maui Real Estate Advisors LLC, was working at real estate brokerage in La Quinta, Calif., when he learned that Justice needed a new kidney. She had been diagnosed with end-stage renal failure the previous year, and was undergoing dialysis (a lifesaving treatment that filters waste, excess fluid and toxins from the blood of patients with failing kidneys) while waiting for an organ transplant. “I was faced with possibly years of dialysis treatments just to keep me alive until I could be considered for a kidney transplant,” Justice explained. “Sid had just joined my real estate brokerage maybe two months before he stepped up and offered to help me by donating a kidney. We were business acquaintances, but not what I would call close friends at the time.”

One afternoon, Kirkland bumped into Justice at the office and said: “I’ll do it. You can have one of my kidneys.”

“I definitely caught her off guard,” he laughed. Justice says she was stunned. “I was blown away,” she admitted.

After rigorous testing to assess his suitability as a donor, doctors delivered the good news: Kirkland was a match. “That he was a match is nothing short of a miracle in and of itself,” Justice said.

The pair underwent surgery on Aug. 12, 2008, exactly one year after Justice received her diagnosis—and even more auspiciously, Kirkland’s birthday. The transplant was a success, and once he was fully healed, Kirkland says he didn’t feel any different. “I was just a pound lighter,” he joked. Contrary to what some may think, you can lead a normal, healthy life with a single kidney (in fact, an estimated one in 750 people is born with only one), and when one is removed, the remaining kidney will increase in size to compensate for the loss of its donated counterpart.

Ten years later, Justice is thriving with her new kidney. “There are really no words that could ever adequately express my gratitude. I mean, this is a guy who stepped up and literally gave me ‘a pound of flesh’ so that I could have a second chance at a healthy life,” she said. “His selfless gift changed everything for me—my ability to work and be productive and my freedom to travel and see the world. Anyone who knows me recognizes the importance of both in my life. There is no way that I can ever repay him, but my job from now on is to ‘pay it forward’ however I can. And by ‘it,’ I mean the spirit of kindness and compassion.”

According to the National Kidney Foundation, of the 123,000 Americans now on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant, more than 101,000 need a kidney—but only 17,000 people receive one each year. Tragically, 12 people die waiting for a kidney every day. In Hawaii, one in seven people suffer from chronic kidney disease, compared to the national average of one in nine. Approximately 4,000 patients statewide require dialysis three times each week due to kidney failure, and there are 700 new Hawaii kidney dialysis patients every year.
That’s why Kirkland encourages others to consider becoming a living organ donor and give the ultimate gift to a family member, friend, colleague—or even a total stranger. “There is nothing more gratifying than knowing you are changing someone’s life,” he said.

Justice will be flying to Maui next month to visit Kirkland and celebrate the tenth anniversary of the transplant surgery. “Sid Kirkland is my hero, and his heart and compassion are boundless,” she said. “As is my gratitude for his amazing gift. The gift of life.”

To learn more about kidney disease in Hawaii, visit www.kidneyhi.org. For more information about becoming a living donor, visit www.kidney.org/transplantation/livingdonors or call the National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii’s Living Donor Council at 589-5902.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – July 21, 2018

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