LARGO, Fla. — A retired first responder who desperately needed a kidney finally got the gift he was looking for. On Friday, he and his donor, complete strangers, finally met for the first time after a successful surgery.
Guy Kitchens knows what it’s like to help other people, serving as a Jupiter Police officer. One day, he got an email.
“Usually you, you know, you just delete them whatever, but I don’t know why for some reason, I just read through it a couple times,” said Kitchens. “For some reason, I just, I couldn’t get it out of my head for a couple of days.”
The story stuck with him: Jeff Cooper’s story.
Cooper, a retired first responder from a Florida Sheriff’s Department, suffered from Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD), an inherited disorder where clusters of cysts develop primarily within your kidneys, causing your kidneys to enlarge and lose function over time. Cooper needed a new kidney.
Kitchens didn’t know Cooper but didn’t hesitate to step in.
“I thought to myself, I’ve been very blessed. I've got two beautiful kids and a beautiful wife, and I thought, I’m going to give a little bit back and do what I can,” said Kitchens.
Cooper found his match in a man he’d never met, and the kidney transplant surgery at Largo Medical Center was successful.
“Living kidney donation probably accounts for a third of the life-saving gifts in all kidney transplants for the United States annually,” said Dr. Amy Lu, a transplant surgeon at Largo Medical Center.
In fact, Dr. Lu explained that last year was the first year the living kidney donation numbers dropped.
Kitchens helped fill that gap, and on Friday for the first time, the two strangers finally met: a life-saving gift while forming a life-changing bond.
“I became a cop because I wanted to help people and I wanted to save lives,” said Kitchens. “Whether you run in to an active shooter with gunfire or give a kidney off-duty, it’s still saving a life.”