TAMPA, Fla. -- While hospitals start elective surgeries again as part of the state's re-opening, for one Tampa family, it means a life-changing surgery years in the making can finally happen.
"It's been a roller coaster," said Patrick Nielsen.
The 40-year-old said he was 12 years old when he learned he had diabetes. At age 38, he said he learned he needed a new kidney. Since then, he's undergone dialysis while his family got creative in trying to find him a donor.
His wife, Patsy Nielsen, put a decal on her car that read, "My Husband Needs and O+ Kidney" with their contact information.
"Somebody saw my car and shared it. It literally went viral," she said.
They received hundreds of calls, but it wasn't until the day before Thanksgiving last year the right driver finally stopped behind Patsy's car at a red light.
"I thought, 'Wow. I really hope she can find somebody.' She turned left, I turned left behind her. I saw her turn into a town home complex and I kept on going towards my house," Allan Gutcher said. "About halfway between her house and my house, the good voices in my head told me to turn around and go find her."
Gutcher said a few months later, he learned he was a match for Nielsen, who as it turns out only lived about a mile away.
"It’s just the right thing to do. I have two that work just fine and Patrick doesn’t have any. And I can live with one and so can he," said Gutcher.
Gutcher said he tried to donate in the past to a longtime friend who had needed a transplant.
"I think in the back of my brain I was doing this for Ron because I know what Patrick’s going through every day," he said.
"I think it was very natural to consider this again. Although, this is different because it was somebody we didn’t know at all but the need is still there, can’t deny that," said his wife, Carol Gutcher. "And Allan’s I always say he’s so brave. He does things I think with a lot of courage so it didn’t surprise me at all."
The Nielsens said they found out on Valentine's Day.
"I bursted out into tears," Patsy said.
"I was in shock for a little bit because you don’t believe that somebody, a stranger, will give a kidney to somebody they don’t even know," said Patrick.
Nielsen said he's scheduled to receive a kidney from Allan this week after the procedure was initially delayed due to the pandemic.
The past two weeks, many Florida hospitals have finally resumed elective surgeries. Tampa General Hospital said they started May 4, though they performed emergency transplant surgeries and emergency surgeries throughout the pandemic. BayCare resumed surgical services May 4 as well. Sarasota Memorial Hospital also resumed procedures. AdventHealth started their process last week also.
"I am more anxious to just let Patrick get healthy and get through this. He’s waited long enough and he’s gone through so much," said Gutcher.
The Nielsens said they hope their story helps raise awareness about organ donation.
"I never knew the importance of organ donation until we were faced with it," Patsy said.
According to UNOS, last year, there were more transplants across the country and more living donors. But there are still more than 100,000 patients waiting nationally and more than 5,000 of them are in Florida.
There are nearly 100,000 Americans waiting on a kidney, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
"There are all kinds of signs around you you just have to open your eyes and be aware and you never know when you’re gonna be able to help somebody out," said Gutcher.
"Once a stranger now he’s gonna be my brother," said Patrick Nielsen.
Now his family drives with a new decal. It reads "Leave a living legacy, become an organ donor."
You can learn more about organ donation through Donate Life Florida.