A Grateful Father
Donald King remembers the long days and nights spent at his son’s side during his three-month stay in the NICU at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital of Pittsburgh. Now age 9, Jonathan was born at 26 weeks, weighing 1 pound 14 ounces. His two younger sisters also spent time in the hospital’s NICU — a combined 46 days — before going home.
“Those were both the best and worst experiences of my life,” says Donald. “I feel so blessed. My kids are healthy and thriving. I always intended to give back.”
After hearing the commercial in May 2017, Donald visited the UPMC living organ donor website and filled out an information form. He received a phone call from a member of the UPMC Living Donor team, asking if he was still interested in donating part of his liver. A living-donor liver transplant is possible because of the liver’s amazing ability to regenerate.
“I’m so grateful for all the blessings we’ve had, all the answered prayers, and the miracles we received,” says Donald. “This was one way to give back for all we’ve gotten.”
Donald underwent a living donor evaluation, including bloodwork and an MRI, and a meeting with a psychologist. Three weeks later, he got the call that he had been approved to donate. The next step: finding a recipient.
A Lifesaving Gift
Donald always assumed he would be donating part of his liver to a child. “I figured if I could help a child and ease the worry of one family, that would be perfect,” he says.
When he got the call that a recipient had been identified, Donald learned he was a perfect match — but the recipient was an adult. Due to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) laws, all he knew was the patient was very sick and needed a liver transplant to survive.
“It was something my heart told me to do,” says Donald. “I’m not God. I couldn’t pick who it went to.”
On Nov. 8, 2018, Donald underwent surgery at UPMC Montefiore, donating more than 40 percent of his liver to a total stranger — a 27-year-old mother of two. That same evening, he was up walking and watching TV. He also had a brief visit from the recipient’s father, who tearfully thanked him and gave him a hug.
A few days later, Donald met the recipient and her family. “It was humbling and remarkable — an experience like I’d never had before. My heart felt good,” he says. “I guess that’s when I realized I really did something fantastic.”
Both Donald and the recipient went home the same day, just one week after surgery. “I felt a little pain and discomfort, but it was truly quite easy,” says Donald, who praises UPMC and its transplant team for its “world-class care and top doctors.”
Donald, a high pressure boiler operator at US Steel Clairton Works, returned to work and running three months later. He now runs 10 to 20 miles a week and had planned to run a marathon as soon as he can.
He stays in touch with the transplant recipient and thinks about her and the surgery every day. “It’s amazing to me to know that I was the one person out of the clear blue who was the right match — and it worked,” says Donald. “I thank God every day that I did this. I’m just a regular guy. My marriage and my three children are my great accomplishments — but this accomplishment ranks right up there with that.”
Donald, whose only regret is not being able to donate again, says, “I hope others will follow in my footsteps to help someone they don’t know. It’s an amazing feeling.”
How Can You Help?
If you're thinking about becoming a living donor for someone in need, learn more about living-donor organ transplants.
Donald’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.