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Organ Donation: Gift Of Life

With more than 83,000 people in the United States currently waiting for an organ transplant, one organ donor can save or enhance the lives of at least 50 people.

The April issue of Family Circle magazine profiles two devoted friends, one of whom has reached out to give the gift of life.

RubyDell Gracy and Joyce Morgan and their families visited The Early Show to share their story.

"There was just that instant rapport that you have with some people," says RubyDell Gracy of her first meeting years ago with Joyce Morgan. The two women built a friendship around family, faith and their young sons' love of soccer.

"We just thoroughly enjoyed each other's company. Our connection was based because of our kids," says Joyce.

The days of being soccer moms are over, but RubyDell and Joyce today still are as close as sisters -- and they are there for each other in the best and worst of times.

The worst of times came four years ago, when RubyDell got the news that her twin boys, Daniel and David, and older son, Cope, each needed a kidney transplant.

"The one thing about kidney disease, it's very silent. Your body just adapts," says RubyDell. "And over the time, their body just adapted to the deficiency that the kidneys were not producing and not cleaning their bodies like they were supposed to."

RubyDell says she shared the news with her friend, "and she just immediately emailed me back and said, 'I want to be the first tested.'"

Joyce recalls the conversation: "I fired back an e-mail to her and I said, 'As your sister, I will be first in line to donate.'"

Back then, Joyce says she didn't know what being a donor would entail. "But I wanted to be there for her, you know. I wanted to give her some hope," she says.

Joyce successfully completed the organ donor tests and turned out to be a match for her best friend's son, David.

"She matched my son better than I would have matched him as a mother," says RubyDell.

Ten weeks later, Joyce gave the first of RubyDell's ailing sons a healthy kidney and a new lease on life.

"They called and said, 'The kidney's in David, and it's working," says RubyDell. "We have a good match, and everything's going well."

"It's been a wonderful experience, you know. Not to have to go through the pain and all that again, you know," adds Joyce. "Nobody wants that. But just seeing how God worked it all out, it's just been amazing to me."

"We have a link. I mean there's no doubt about it," says RubyDell. "We have a link and a bond that can never be severed."

Then RubyDell's husband, Tommy, donated one of his kidneys to son Cope -- two down and one to go.

A few months after Joyce's kidney donation, her teenage son, Ryan, was identified as a possible donor. But her husband Guy was not happy with their son's decision to also donate.

He tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm, "It took a while for me to grasp letting him do that. You know, selfish part of me trying to let my son do this. The Lord had to deal with me to release that."

It was their faith in God that led the family love the Gracys sacrificially. Ryan says, "God gave me a great peace about it. I just knew that this is what God was calling me to do. And just to be able to share the love that Jesus has given the world and I wanted to just be able to continue to give that and show that to Daniel."

And for the donors giving, Daniel as well as David and Cope are grateful. Cope says, "It's been a true blessing and it's been a real experience. It's a gesture you won't ever forget."

Susan Ungaro, Family Circle magazine editor-in-chief, notes most people don't realize that it is possible to be a living donor.

She notes, "Over 6,000 people have done what these wonderful people have done in this country every year. A single kidney is the most common kind of living donor, organ donation; a segment of the liver, which can regenerate itself is another; pancreas segment and a lobe of the lung. But basically there are a lot of risks involved."

Like any other major operation, the surgery requires anesthesia and there is a possibility of complications: "Joyce actually took her eight weeks to recover from the surgery because she had major surgery. But the other two, Ryan and Tom, had laproscopic surgery, which is also much less invasive. And Tom says he was back to work in a week or so."

The important thing, she says, is for those thinking to donate to have the full support of their families. Ungaro adds, "Usually people that do this get psychological counseling as well. It's very recommended. It's also important to know that it doesn't cost the living donor any money to be a good Samaritan. If the patient has insurance, even Medicare, it covers all of the donor's medical costs, which is really important for people to know."

Two Web sites, www.organdonor.gov and www.optn.org, have plenty of information about living and non-living donations, and can provide specific information on getting involved in your area.

For more information, you can visit the Web site www.incompatiblekidneys.org, or call The Johns Hopkins Hospital Comprehensive Transplant Center at 1-888-304-5069, Option #3.

You may also visit www.mtf.org and www.organtransplants.org.

To donate your organs at time of death, fill out a donor card (available at organdonor.gov), indicate your preferences on your driver's license, and make sure your immediate family members know.