Couple spends big bucks for cat's organ transplant

PHILADELPHIA -- Andre Gonciar and his wife arrived one recent morning at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Hospital.

In their crate was their cat, Oki, who did not seem pleased. And who can blame him -- Oki has already used up most of his nine lives.

As a kitten, Gonciar found him clinging to life in a creek in Romania.

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Andre Gonciar hugs his cat, Oki. CBS News

"He's definitely a fighter," said Gonciar.

Oki's latest affliction is kidney failure. He came all the way from Buffalo for a transplant. Yes, a transplant. And when was the last time you saw an operation begin with a kiss from the surgeon?

The surgery alone cost more than $16,000, plus airfare, hotels, medical tests and follow-up appointments.

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Oki receiving treatment at a veterinarian's office CBS News

Gonciar said he hopes the final cost won't be more than $30,000. It was money he had set aside for a down payment on a house.

They've done about 155 of these operations at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Hospital since 1998. On average the cats live about another three years.

Gonciar admits that some people think he's a little crazy to spend all that money on a cat that's nearly 12 years old.

When asked how he'd explain it to those people, Gonciar said: "Well I would tell them to look at their child or their mother and ask themselves the same question."

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Cherry left, and Oki, right, engage in a staring contest Andre Gonciar

If you're wondering where they get the healthy kidney, well, Oki's came from Cherry Garcia who was found in a shelter. That may sound cruel but Cherry probably would have been euthanized -- and part of the deal is that the owner of the cat that receives a kidney must adopt the cat that donates it.

"This little kitten (Cherry) has given Oki the gift of life," said Gonciar. "We owe him thanks for that."

Following the surgery both Oki and Cherry are doing well and are slowly adjusting to the fact that, like it or not, they're in this together.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.