More than 100,000 people in the United States are currently waiting for an organ transplant. And while statistics show 95% of Americans say they support organ donation, only 58% are actually signed up as a donor.
But one man, James Neal, has given away two of his organs – a decision so rare that there aren't even statistics on how many people have done it. Neal, who first donated a kidney in 2016, has now given part of his liver to a total stranger who he recently met for the first time in Pittsburgh.
Margaret Boden was suffering from a severe liver disease, and was already on a transplant waiting list last year, when doctors told her they didn't think she would live to see her daughter's spring wedding.
"[My daughter] actually went in to be tested to see if she was a donor, which she wasn't," Boden said.
While she tried to grasp the news, Neal attended a donor-recipient brunch that he says inspired him to donate again.
"I thought, 'Why not?'" he said, adding "It was just ingrained in my being -- if you're able to help somebody, do it."
Soon, Neal got a call: he had a match. When Boden heard, she couldn't believe her luck.
"I'm like, 'What?' I was in shock …" she said. "My daughter's, like, jumping up and down, like, she's really excited. And I'm like, 'No. Don't get too excited yet.'"
According to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 20 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant. So far in 2019, only about 20% of organ donors were from a living donor, rather than someone deceased.
Dr. Abhi Humar, chief of abdominal transplant surgery at The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, performed Boden and Neal's procedures in March. Humar described the transplant as a "complex procedure."
"We have two full teams, because both operations are going simultaneously," he said. "And that takes, with both combined, the better part of about eight, ten hours to do."
Dr. Humar said that today, both patients "are doing very well." Neal, he said, is "pretty much back to doing everything that he was doing before the donation … his liver is pretty much regenerated back to full size."
Despite the risk he took, Neal said he's happy he made the decision to donate. "It was like, someone told me 'one person cannot change the world. But one person can change the world of one person.'"
He's "not sure" if he has plans to give away any more organs, however. "I cannot grow another kidney; my liver could only be divided in half once," he said with a laugh.
Neal spent three months recovering and just went back to work at Walmart, his job of 27 years. Boden, who is retired, says she was hesitant to meet Neal at first -- until she read a letter from him.
When the pair met, Boden told Neal that his words inspired her to make a quilt with white lilies, to symbolize new life.
And thanks to her new life and a man she'd never met, Boden got to watch her daughter walk down the aisle last month.
"I feel like [Neal] is [on my shoulder] all the time. And if it wasn't for my guard -- I was calling him my guardian angel -- I wouldn't be here."
Boden and Neal told us they plan to stay in touch and are now like family. Dr. Humar said that a donor's surgery cost is covered by the recipient's insurance. Neal added that his only medical expense was for pain medication.