Joe Reisdorff and Dan Masters had crossed paths before.
They’re from the same small town of Syracuse, Nebraska. They go to the same church. Masters works at the local hospital, and Reisdorff volunteers on the Syracuse Rescue Squad.
But they had never shared a meal or set up a play date for their kids.
A few months ago that changed.
In late November, Reisdorff and Masters were both recovering from surgery at the Nebraska Medical Center — Masters’ kidney in Reisdorff’s body.
They visited the Omaha hospital on Friday for a ceremony recognizing living kidney and liver donors. More than 1,000 kidney transplants from living donors have been performed at the med center since 1970. Kidneys from living donors tend to be of better quality and last longer, doctors say.
Reisdorff, 29, was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease about eight years ago.
Reisdorff, who works with farmers to improve soil quality, was doing his job one day when he started feeling lightheaded. His eyes rolled back and he nearly passed out. Doctors diagnosed him with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a disease that attacks the kidney’s filtering units and leads to kidney failure. He took medication to slow the disease but knew a kidney transplant was looming.
Four members of Reisdorff’s family were tested to see if they were a match, but all turned up negative.
Then Masters, 40, spotted a Facebook post on the donor search. He immediately talked to his wife, Liza, and moved forward with the testing process.
Though we are born with two kidneys, the body needs only one to function. Once one kidney is removed, the other compensates for the loss and takes over full function.
There was only one question lingering in the back of his mind: What if one of his three small children would someday need a kidney?
“You can’t live on what-ifs,” Masters decided. “If that’s going to happen, that’s going to happen. It’s just one of those things.”
Masters thought of himself being in Reisdorff’s position, a husband and father of a young child, and knew he would want someone to step up for him.
Reisdorff said, “Every time you got that call from a family member that they weren’t a match, it was just another setback. Having (Masters) there to be the next in line was another shimmer of hope.”
Reisdorff spent nearly a year on the wait list for a new kidney before finding that Masters’ organ was a match.
Reisdorff’s wife, Christa, was shocked to find out Masters was being tested.
“We’d already been disappointed four times,” she said. “I was happy, but I was nervous.”
The transplant took place Nov. 30 at the med center. Recovery time for both men was fairly painless. They spent a few days in the hospital, and a friendly competition helped the time pass even faster.
Who would eat a full meal first? Reisdorff — chicken broth and toast. Who would get out of bed and walk the hospital floor first? Reisdorff again.
They also competed to see who would leave the hospital first; Masters won by a day.
At the Friday ceremony, members of the hospital’s transplant team spoke to the importance of living donors and thanked those who chose to donate.
“It’s hard enough to go to the dentist, let alone lay down on the operating table to give someone your kidney or part of your liver,” said Dr. Alan Langnas, chief of transplantation at the med center.
Victoria Hunter, manager of the kidney and pancreas transplant program, estimated that kidneys from live donors should last more than 20 years, but it often depends on the condition of the donated kidney.
Reisdorff’s new kidney is expected to last another 30 years.
Now the two families go to dinner together often, and their children have play dates.
It’s still a little strange for Masters to know that Reisdorff has one of his kidneys.
“Every time we get together, it’s a little weird to think about,” Masters said.
“He comes over to visit it once in a while,” Reisdorff said jokingly as he rubbed his side.