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Man gets life-saving kidney transplant thanks to his best friend and a stranger: "Overwhelming feeling of gratefulness"

Man gets kidney from stranger, friend's help
Man gets new kidney thanks to his best friend and a total stranger 08:40

A California man received a life-saving transplant thanks to help from his best friend and a person he'd never met — until now.

Cory Slater and Curtis Choe are both married fathers of three. The two met in seventh grade and quickly became an inseparable duo, bonding over a love for sports and music.

They ended up on different sides of the world. Choe is in San Diego and Slater is in Japan.

For most of his life, Choe struggled with kidney health. In 2020, he got the news that he needed a kidney transplant. He stayed positive while he waited, but was worried about his family.

"What's gonna happen if I don't make it, you know, how, how are they gonna go on and what are they gonna do without a father? That was really what brought me the most fear and anxiety," Choe said.

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, there are more than 103,000 people on the national transplant waiting list. As of March 2024, more than 89,000 of those on the list require a kidney transplant.

When he heard his lifelong friend's prognosis, Slater decided to donate a kidney to Choe.

"There was no hesitation when it's someone that's your best friend," Slater said. "I didn't have to think too hard."

However, Slater was not a match, but there was still hope.

Slater was asked if he would participate in a program for the National Kidney Registry. In the program, he would donate a kidney to a stranger whom he did match with. In return, Choe would be prioritized to find his own match. 

Slater didn't hesitate. He gave his kidney to a stranger and Choe got a new kidney from Kathi Anderson - an Iowa nurse and mom of three. 

"CBS Mornings" lead national correspondent David Begnaud spoke with Slater and Choe after the transplant at the "CBS Mornings" studio in Times Square. 

The two reflected on how it has changed their already close relationship.

"Everything that happens in my life from here on out. Um, you're a part of it, you know, like all the memories I share with my family, all the experiences I have with my wife and all of that is because of Cory and you can't really, truly express that to somebody," Choe said. "An overwhelming feeling of gratefulness and love and you know, anything you ever need in life, I am here for you."

Choe, who never met Anderson, called her "another angel on Earth."

"Another beautiful person, just willing to sacrifice something for somebody else, selflessly," Choe told Begnaud.

That's when Begnaud surprised the two friends. Anderson traveled to New York City from Iowa to meet them.

"Thank you for saving my friend," Slater told her when she came out.

"Like you said, a gift that you give away, so much more comes back to you. So I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed," Anderson said.

Anderson donated her kidney to help a child in her community.

"He was a kiddo who was born with a birth defect, [and] was in the hospital right away. They didn't think he'd survive. His family has been very involved in Children's Hospital and raising funds. That's where I work," she said. "I saw his mom's Facebook post that said, 'He's gonna really need a kidney. Is there anybody interested in looking into the living kidney donor program?'"

She said she didn't hesitate in her decision.

"I had a kidney to share, so why not?" she added.

It was a moment for Choe, who was celebrating his 40th birthday on the day of the interview, that he'll always keep with him.

"I mean, two of the most important people in my entire life here," Choe said. "Very grateful. Thank you for, you know, getting us all together."

These three people are now forever connected by paying forward the gift of life.

"If I can take that gift and spread it to other people, I think that's what I was meant to do with this gift of life," Choe said.

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