(NEW YORK) — In August, Eric Parrie donated his kidney to a woman he’d never met. But before he parted ways with his organ, he had some things he needed to say to it first.
So the 26-year-old Yale law student wrote about a dozen letters to his kidney, an organ he said he’d always taken for granted. He even settled on a name for the kidney: Dick Posner.
“Dear Dick Posner, first off, I want to say thanks. From what I can tell, you’ve done a pretty good job these last 25 years,” Parrie wrote in his first letter on Feb. 1, 2011.
Why “Dick Posner?” The name actually belongs to a real person, a judge in the 7th circuit Court of Appeals who has written about the legal aspects of organ donation. Parrie said thinking about giving his kidney away made him see it more like a person.
“It just made me think more about my kidney, which is a body part I’ve never really thought about before,” Parrie said. “And it was a way of not taking myself too seriously through the whole process.”
Even if Parrie didn’t want to take his decision too seriously, for Laura Cheaney, of Sulphur, La., it was a lifesaver.
The 30-year-old mother’s kidneys had failed her after she gave birth to her son in 2007. She had been on dialysis for almost two years when Parrie decided to donate his organ.
“You can’t really give a better gift to someone, especially someone you don’t know,” Cheaney said. “It really saves their life.”
Living organ donation is somewhat rare. About 6,000 people volunteer to donate one of their kidneys every year, according to the National Kidney Registry.
Meanwhile, more than 92,000 people are currently awaiting kidney transplants in the U.S., according to the National Kidney Foundation. Most people who donate give their kidneys to family members or friends. The National Kidney Foundation counted about 165 anonymous donations in 2011, compared with 1,100 kidneys donated to siblings and nearly 900 donated by children to their parents.
The need for kidneys is so great that last year nearly 5,000 people died while waiting for a transplant.
Typically, hospitals take great pains to ensure that anonymous donations stay anonymous. But both Parrie and Cheaney decided they wanted to meet and Guillera put them in touch. On Jan. 2, 2012, Parrie, back in New Orleans on break, rode his bike to Ochsner, just as he had on the day of the August surgery. Cheaney, her husband Matt and son Devon made the three-hour drive from Sulphur to the New Orleans hospital.
“I was thinking, ‘Man what am I going to say to this guy?’ I just wanted to let him know how much he’s done for us, me and my family,” she said. “He’s just a magnificent person.”
Parrie said the choice to be a living donor may not be right for everyone, but he hopes more people will consider it as a safe and realistic option. He wants others to know it doesn’t take a saint to donate.
“It takes diligence and courage, but doesn’t take a superhero,” he said. “You can be someone who believes in loving your neighbor as yourself and this is a way to make it happen.”
What did the real Dick Posner have to say about all this? Parrie wrote an email to him, telling him about his kidney donation and the letters he had written.
“I got an email back from his assistant. She said, ‘Judge Posner was pleased to hear that since up to now the only thing named after him was a house cat,'” Parrie said.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio