PHOENIX (KSAZ) - Most organ and tissue donations happen after the donor has died, but kidney donations from these deceased donors haven't been able to keep up with the demand. So now, the living are stepping in to help family, friends, and even complete strangers.
"We are all in this world together, and if you can make a difference in someone's life, then you should," said Beth Ramirez. Life changed for her about two years ago, after her daughter was diagnosed with an illness.
"When she got the diagnosis, I knew I couldn't do anything to help her, but I knew that I had to do something to change the world," said Ramirez. "I knew that I had to do something to make an impact."
Shortly after the diagnosis, Ramirez stumbled upon a magazine with an article about live kidney donation.
"I felt a tap on my shoulder that said, 'this is what I've been preparing you for,'" said Ramirez.
After a lot of thought and research, Ramirez made her mind up that she was going to give the gift of life by donating a kidney.
"I had people say to me, 'why would you do this?' 'Why would you do this?' 'What if your daughter needs a kidney?' or what if one of your loved ones needs a kidney?" Ramirez recounted. "Thinking that through for a really long time, I finally turned it around in my brain and I thought, 'why would you not?' There's thousands of daughters that need kidneys, husbands and wives and mothers and dads that need kidneys."
Ramirez worked closely with the transplant institute at Banner University Medical Center Phoenix, where doctors performed countless tests to make sure her body would be OK with just one kidney. In February, Ramirez donated her kidney to a complete stranger.
"As I understand it, I was in one hospital room and she was in the other hospital room, and halfway through my surgery, they were preparing her, and when they took the kidney from me and put it into her, I was probably going into recovery."
Three and a half weeks later, Ramirez was back at work.
"It's the most gratifying and satisfying thing I've ever done," said Ramirez. "I would do it again in a heartbeat if I could."
Ramirez saw a need and wanted to help, and that help is desperately needed. According to the Donor Network of Arizona, a kidney is the most needed organ for transplantation.
"When we look at the United States as a whole, there's almost 115,000 people, just in general, on the waiting list who need a life saving organ transplant. Kidneys alone, 102,935. So, a vast majority of people on the waiting list right now need a kidney," said Nico Santos. "Arizona right now has almost 2,200 people on the waiting list, and kidneys specifically is 1,888. Again, the vast majority."
Nearly 6,000 living donations take place each year, about four out of every ten donations. Ramirez now hopes to inspire others to be a live donor, so more people's names can be taken off the waiting list and more lives can be saved.
"The only thing that you need is a willing heart and a little bit of time," said Ramirez.
In most cases, the recipient's insurance pays for the surgery and care, so typically being a donor is free. Ramirez says her recipient has remained anonymous, but she tells us the two may meet in the coming weeks.