The Life-Lifter: A 60-Person Chain of Kidneys and Kindness

The last time my family moved, I spent about a week wandering around our new apartment building like a confused transfer student. One night, exhausted, overwhelmed, stymied by a mysterious system in the laundry room, I almost really lost it. Then one of my new neighbors lent me his laundry card, and it's embarrassing to admit how overjoyed and relieved I was. I couldn't thank him enough. Such kindness! Such generosity! Funny how a small gesture like this makes you want to do something kind for others. But while I'm sure I would lend a bumbling neighbor my laundry card, I'm not sure I could ever be as generous as Rick Ruzzamenti—or the 30 other people he indirectly inspired to donate their kidneys so that others might live.

I don't think it's just the relocation exhaustion that made me get weepy when I read this New York Times story of Chain 124, "the longest chain of kidney transplants ever constructed, linking 30 people who were willing to give up an organ with 30 who might have died without one." The chain began with a Good Samaritan named Rick Ruzzamenti, who decided rather impulsively that he wanted to donate his kidney to someone in need. As the article reports, the donation chain's "momentum was then fueled by a mix of selflessness and self-interest among donors who gave a kidney to a stranger after learning they could not donate to a loved one because of incompatible blood types or antibodies. Their loved ones, in turn, were offered compatible kidneys as part of the exchange."

In other words, a wife who wanted to donate a kidney to her husband but couldn't because they were incompatible for whatever reason donated a kidney to someone, and in return, her husband eventually would get a compatible kidney from someone else.

I love this story not only for its supercharged pay-it-forward mentality and because it is a reminder that there are people who will be this generous. But I also love it because it’s illustrative of how interconnected our lives are. Aren't we all links in a chain of sorts? Whether it's donating a kidney or something smaller, like sharing a smile or lending a laundry card, we can all do something today to inspire someone else to be kind too.

The last link in the chain of the 30 interconnected transplants, organ recipient Donald C. Terry said to his doctor, "Is it going to continue? I don't want to be the reason to stop anything." "No, no, no," the doctor assured him. "This chain ends, but another one begins."

The Paper Cup of Gratitude

paper cup
Photo: Kari Byron

The other day Kari Byron tweeted this image of her morning-coffee cup, on which someone had written, "If you are who I think you are, thanks for making science cool!" Byron tweeted: "Humbled by the sweetness." By the way, she is who you think she is, coffee-writer-person—the awesome host of the Discovery Channel Mythbusters and Head Rush—and she does make science cool.

What an endearing way to send someone message, right? And it got me thinking—what if we all expressed our gratitude in such heartfelt but sneaky ways? A thank-you to a thoughtful waiter scribbled on a napkin or an anonymous note of appreciation to a coworker sticky-noted to a computer keyboard. An unsigned "thanks" slipped in the pocket of a friendly acquaintance. A chance encounter can lift someone's whole day up, and you can be the writer on the paper cup, as it were.

Next: Choreographed hope


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