(CBS News) Eighteen Americans die each day while awaiting an organ transplant. So this month, a Los Angeles DJ decided to step in and help one person waiting for a kidney. It was a teaching moment for him and his listeners.
"Kevin & Bean" are California's morning drive sensation on CBS radio station KROQ. The DJs are as well known for their alternative music as their on-air antics. So it's no wonder commuters nearly slammed on their brakes this month when Gene "Bean" Baxter suddenly turned serious, announcing on-air that he planned to donate a kidney to a friend.
Bean, donating a kidney? Even Kevin Ryder, his co-host, was shocked. "What he's doing is more than I would do. He's a better man than I am," he said.
It was all about the station's chief engineer, Scott Mason -- who had been limping along on dialysis for years -- but never told a soul. Mason said, "I didn't want anybody to think I was less capable than anybody else at work."
Bean said, "He was moving kind of slow and I thought, whoa! What's going on? You gotta lay off the crack! What's happening?"
Mason it turns out, was on a waiting list for a kidney transplant, but he told Bean it could take as long as eight years. What Bean said next left Mason speechless. Mason recalled, "He said, I really want you to have one of my kidneys. He said, 'I'm healthy, I have two, and from what I read you only need one. You need it,' he says. 'You look like you need it.'"
Bean said, "It wasn't a big emotional decision for me. And I don't think that my part of this decision is all that big a deal. I honestly think this surgery is fairly commonplace, and in a few weeks, I'll be fine!"
Asked about giving up the organ, Bean said, "Yeah, but I don't need it, I mean, I have two. Look, I'm not the one who has to do the hard work, all I have to do is go to sleep."
But there were hurdles almost from the beginning. Mason and Bean weren't even the same blood type, which, until recently, would have made the transplant impossible.
But a process pioneered at Cedars Sinai Medical Center tricked Mason's body into accepting Bean's kidney.
Dr. Andrew Klein, director of the Cedars-Sinai Transplant Center, said, "If they have pre-existing antibodies in their bloodstream that might attack the organ, to get rid of those makes this unrelated donation highly successful."
As the operation got under way, nervous family members gathered in the waiting room.
Bean's wife, Donna Baxter, said, "I'm really sweating it. Anytime anyone is under anesthesia, you're heart stops a little bit."
Bean's healthy kidney came out into the world unscathed, and was rushed next door to Mason. His long wait was finally over.
The operating room doctor told CBS News, "Overall, within the first couple of days, he will feel totally different, like a new life."
Mason said, "I haven't figured the right words out that are three or four levels higher than 'thank you.' What are those words?"
Bean said, "I don't need him to try to put it into words, it's fine, just get better, that's all I want to see from Scott."
And a day after the surgery, Bean got his chance. Mason said, "Thank you so much. You've really changed my life really. Overnight."
Bean said, "I'm happy to do it."
And there it was -- the first real sign that Bean realized what he'd really done -- and on this day of all days. It was Bean's birthday. Bean told Mason, "This is the best birthday I've ever had, thanks man. It's good to see you."
The best gift of all -- had been the one Bean had given -- "the kidney Bean," as Mason's calling it. It changed not one life, but two.
Check out KROQ's coverage of the kidney transplant on their website.
For Lee Cowan's full report, watch the video in the player above.