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Transplant Reunites School Pals

Joe Polanis and Joe Wharton share much more than a first name; they share a liver.

The two men grew up together, but lost touch for 30 years. In 2002, Polanis, 46, was diagnosed with terminal liver disease, and was placed on the waiting list for a donor. As the wait continued, Polanis worried that he would not get one in time.

Wharton, 49, heard about his old friend's plight and got in touch.

"I heard it through the Internet," Wharton tells The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler. "Somebody e-mailed me through Internet. I think it was classmates.com. And then I got hold of Joe and I talked to him a little bit. And when I called him, I could hear how sick he was."

Polanis was told he had one year to live, when in fact, the transplant surgery later showed, he had only about three more weeks.

"I was on my last leg," Polanis says. "Through the testing and everything, they sort of gave a false reading. When my surgeon took my liver out, I had less than a month to live."

So after several conversations, Wharton offered to donate part of his own liver. He says, "I finally just said, 'What can I do to help you?' And you know, something just told me that I had to do this."

What is remarkable is that the two men had not seen each other in 30 years and they were not even close friends when they were growing up.

Wharton explains, "We used to live two blocks from each other. We used to hang out. But he had his interests and he was really into his football and all the sports, where I was into music."

Polanis says, "Words can't even describe how I feel towards Joe and his family. It's the ultimate gift, the gift of life - a second chance at life."

Sixty percent of Wharton's liver went to Polanis so it was not something Wharton took lightly. "I went through counseling at Westchester Medical before I did this. And they were real to the point that I could die over this," he says.

Though the liver regenerates over time, Wharton says, his has not regenerated yet so he is still not quite like his old self. "Tired, fatigued and, you know, I have my ups and downs," he says.

Polanis says, "I feel good" and emphasizes that if it were not for his friend, he would probably not have made it, even though he was on the donor's list.

"There's always somebody sicker than I was," Polanis explains. "Unfortunately, the way that the waiting list works is, it's by a score, 6 being the least sick and 40 being the most sick. And I was right in the middle."

He credits also the help he got from the Links for Life campaign to get the information out about his great need.

Polanis says, "Links for Life campaign will help you. If you're in need of an organ, they will help you set up a Web site for free. And it is a really great organization. They're very proactive helping people try to find somebody."

And so it is that Wharton, who was in Florida, and Polanis, who lives in Pennsylvania, now have a bond that will never be broken.

"We call all the time," Polanis says.

For more information about the two men, visit Joe Polanis Web site.