John McNicol clicked on an online advertisement and extended a life.
The 54-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident was researching the kidney donation process when an advertisement for MatchingDonors.com graced his computer screen.
“It was bannered on something I was looking at,” McNicol said. “I clicked on it. I never have before.”
A retired schoolteacher from Michigan, McNicol’s decision to register as a potential donor on the site, which has coordinated more than 300 transplant surgeries since 2004, was no accident.
As a debate coach in high school, McNicol said he had always been “one of those guys” that researched what he didn’t know. So, after watching a documentary on illegal kidney sales in Asia, he started to piece it together.
Donating a kidney would not shorten his lifespan, the pain from the transplant would subside in a week and he could still drink beer.
“It became pretty much a no-brainer,’’ he said.
In November 2013, two months after registering on MatchingDonors.com, McNicol received a message on the site from 70-year-old Philip Cunningham, a retired insurance analyst from Scarsdale, N.Y, with the same blood type as McNicol.
Cunningham had been on dialysis three days a week for the last year. His kidney was getting worse. And, despite his own complications, he had to help his wife with her lung disease. Cunningham said on his MatchingDonors.com profile that a kidney “would really be saving the lives of two people.’’
McNicol wrote to him: “I am healthy and believe in the inherent value of all people. If I can live a healthy life and extend the life of another, why wouldn’t I?’’
Despite the matching blood types, donating a kidney was no one size fits all. Everything had to match up.
McNicol flew to New York for all kinds of tests, from blood to renal scans. His wife, Kendra, didn’t think it was a good idea, but McNicol persisted.
When he told his two sons, John, 30, and Shane, 26, over the phone that he would donate a kidney, there was no worry at all. He had always been “indestructible” to them.
“We were just very proud,” Shane said. “He was worried that we were going to be worried for him.”
McNicol went in for surgery Feb. 18. Three days later, he was walking around Times Square.
For Cunningham, the recovery process is a little longer. He cannot leave his home for about three months while he builds up immunity.
But, McNicol’s phone calls help. Once strangers, the two have talked at least three times a week since making contact last year. McNicol still does not understand his accounting jokes, but it is all in good fun.
“I think we really hit it off, he’s just a very generous kind of person,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham’s new kidney, which came just 94 days after his message to McNicol, has given him a second chance of sorts. According to Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, living donor transplants last an average of 15 to 20 years.
Now, Cunningham can take care of his wife and see his 4-year-old granddaughter grow up.
“Everyone wants to donate a kidney to a young mother of three, as if this man’s life at 70 has less value. I just didn’t see it that way,” McNicol said.
Since the surgery, McNicol has gotten a few rounds of drinks. And Cunningham helped him with his resume, which landed McNicol, a motorcycle buff, a job at Eagler Rider, a motorcycle rental company in Fort Lauderdale.
“I do have a sense of indestructibility,” he said.