She’d struggled with it for years, but now the news she got was devastating. The genetic disease that wasn’t thought to be a problem for her for decades to come was suddenly wreaking deadly havok for the wife and mother, leaving her in need of a miracle to save her life.
Now Melinda Ray of Colorado was in desperate need of a liver transplant, but condition barred a deceased donor and so far, no one had matched to be a living donor. Hating to ask for help for anything, but knowing her life depended on it, Melinda began reaching out to find a donor to help her in her battle with polycystic kidney disease.
While Melinda’s sister Michelle Aikman was on an annual getaway with college friends, she got a phone call from Melinda with the terrible news. She shared it with friend Robin Bramstedt, of California, who was also on the getaway.
According to UCHealth, Robin talked to her husband, Jeff, about it and both lined up to be tested to see if either could be a donor. For Jeff, a former Navy SEAL and Hollywood stuntman, the decision was an easy one, even though it would put his own life at risk if he was a match.
In the meantime, more donor candidates were tested and either were not matches or dropped out, according to a Facebook post from Melinda.
The situation was growing ever more dire and she pleaded for someone to help, because her organs were being crushed due to the growth of her liver from the cysts.
Back in California, Robin was not a match for Melinda, but miraculously Jeff was. And he was all-in on putting his life on hold for several months to undergo the transplant that could save Melinda’s life.
Citing an interview with ABC News, UCHealth reported how Jeff explained his easy decision: “It’s not OK for someone to die if you don’t step up. That was a no-brainer to me. There are very few things more noble that an average person can do to make a difference.”
Jeff and Melinda first met in person just a week before the transplant when he underwent more extensive donor screening at UCHealth University of Colorada Hospital. UCHealth reported that she “jumped into the burly stranger’s arms as tears gushed from her eyes.”
Melinda said of the emotional moment, “I just couldn’t let him go. Just being able to feel this guy who would do this for me, I immediately loved this person. It’s like having a family member in a split second that you love completely.”
The surgical procedures consisted of “10-hour double surgeries” on December 4, 2017 that also allowed the two to recover on the same floor in the hospital.
The families have since become close, even hanging out together at the Rays’ home while Jeff was healing enough to travel back home. Just one month after surgery, Melinda shared the news of good levels on Facebook.
Jeff, who was adopted as a child and felt a special connection to the Rays because their eldest son is also adopted, told ABC he shares the “family feeling” Melinda expressed.
“I feel that I have a little sister now. We literally share DNA at this point and she has a major organ out of my body. I feel like I have a blood sister and that’s pretty cool.”
Melinda was blown away by the whole thing, “It gave me great hope in humanity…The fact that someone would put their life on hold for me and stop their life to save mine, it meant everything to me.”
Both Jeff’s current liver, about 30 percent of which was given to Melinda, and Melinda’s new one, will regenerate according to UCHealth, allowing Jeff to return to work within three months of the surgery. All the best to these two wonderful people as they move forward in their lives!