Kodiak Daily MirrorDaily
Newspaper of Kodiak, Alaska

By LINDSAY COURNIA
Mirror Writer

October 18, 2006

Kodiakan William Thomas was part of a groundbreaking organ donation surgery this September in New York when he donated one of his kidneys to a recipient he met on the Internet.

Thomas, an Oklahoma native, had only given organ donation a fleeting thought until a “Nightline” television program that first aired a few years ago changed his perspective.

The “Nightline” edition spotlighted the Web site matchingdonors.com — a site where patients needing organ donation post personal profiles and are contacted by live potential donors who browse the profiles.

This Web site and others like it received both praise and criticism, since patients find donors on their own instead of waiting on the organ donation list monitored by the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Several thousand people on the list die each year waiting for an organ, since there is always more need than supply, Thomas said.

Thomas was inspired by the TV program and soon browsed matchingdonors.com to look at profiles.

He considered several before viewing a profile for Paul Cardinale, an East Coast man in need of a kidney donor.

“(Although) his profile wasn’t the first one I looked at, there was just a feeling I had,” Thomas said. “I tell everyone it was the Lord talking to me.”

Thomas contacted Cardinale and was met with an enthusiastic response. Cardinale’s family sent Thomas a test kit to see how blood tests compared.

“We were a perfect match,” Thomas said.

The next several months were a whirlwind of further testing to determine whether Thomas would be an ideal kidney donor for Cardinale.

“Any of (the tests) could have been a stopper for this process but none of them were,” Thomas said. “It was like driving through a town and catching all green lights.”

But a dilemma still loomed: the New York hospital designated to perform the transplant did not yet accept altruistic donors like Thomas, arranged via the Internet or a means other than the national donor list.

Cardinale’s mother joined with the organization Women on a Mission to lobby the hospital for a policy change. Their efforts were soon rewarded.

In May, after graduating from college, Thomas traveled to New York for final testing at the transplant hospital.

It was his first time meeting Cardinale face to face.

After final tests were complete, the transplant date was set for Sept. 13, and Thomas left to do volunteer work for the Baptist Mission in Kodiak.

Thomas’s volunteer work and brief stay soon turned into a full-time job with the Brother Francis Shelter and permanent residence on the island.

He remained in close contact with Cardinale and his family, looking ahead to the September transplant date.

Thomas said his most vivid memories on the day of the surgery were feeling calm before the surgery and feeling intensely thirsty afterward.

The surgery was completed successfully and Thomas was released from the hospital only two days later.

Byron Brown, mayor of Buffalo, N.Y., presented Cardinale and Thomas with a proclamation and dubbed Sept. 21, 2006 “Paul Cardinale and William Thomas Day” in the City of Buffalo.

Thomas is now back in Kodiak, well-mended and experiencing no physical setbacks from the surgery.

“I still drink a Mountain Dew every day,” he said.

Thomas said he and Cardinale stay in close contact and have recently celebrated Cardinale’s engagement to his girlfriend.

“We’re kinda like family now,” Thomas said. “And this was a pioneering thing for us — laying down the foundation so others will follow.”

Mirror writer Lindsay Cournia may be reached via e-mail at fisheries@kodiakdailymirror.com.