ATLANTA - For the first time, John Marrujo, my kidney recipient, and I are face to face via Skype.
And we’re both remembering the rush of feeling we had the morning of June 9 2015.
"There were definitely a lot of emotions,” Marrujo says. “Good. Scared. Just all over the place. But overall, a good feeling."
I was in an operating room at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where transplant surgeon Dr. Nicole Turgeon used a laparascope to remove my left kidney, after weeks of testing to make sure I was healthy enough to donate.
John was more than 2,000 miles away at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. With a wife and two children, he had kidney failure, and was getting up at 3am three times a week to undergo dialysis before going to work.
Today, John says, he feels like a different man.
"Full of energy, just up and about, non-stop,” he says. “I think I mentioned that I coach. So it's just a lot easier, not being on dialysis. A lot more energy."
Our surgeries set off a cross-country kidney transplant chain created by the National Kidney Registry.
It stretched from Atlanta to Los Angeles, then on to Northern California, then all the way back to New Jersey.
In all there were 10 surgeries, involving 5 donors and 5 recipients. All in a two week period.
"And so yes we have to have all the stars align and all the flights align and the surgeons and the surgeries and the patients be ready for those chains to actually take place,” says Dr. Nicole Turgeon. “It sometimes seems to be a miracle when you have a large number of transplants that are occurring in a chain."
The night of my surgery, Dr. Turgeon read me a series of texts from John's surgeon. It ended with "He says to tell you that you gave him back his life today."
"And you started to cry, and then it made me cry to be honest,”: remembers Dr. Turgeon. “Because that moment where things had gone well. And it became human, and real for you."
I tried to go into the surgery with no expectations.
"I just did it because I could and I wanted to help somebody,” I tell John, “But, I'm just glad that it ended up with you, that you were my recipient, even though I had no control over that."
"You were inspired,” John says. “And, hopefully, this inspires many others. And it keeps going. Like I said, there are lots of people out there who are not as fortunate as I have been. And that's why I thank God every day for this opportunity to be able to live life pretty much normally."
"Well, happy "kidney-versary" John. Happy one year anniversary,” I tell him.
“Thank you,” he says. “Like I said, I will be saying thank you every day for the rest of my life, no matter how it turns out. We leave our destiny in God's hands. That's all we can do, keep doing what we do and move on. Just living one day at a time, and living it to the fullest, because we never know, right?"