Complete stranger donates kidney to single dad so he could see his own kids grow up

Two dads, who were once strangers, became great friends through a life-saving act.

Chris Perez (40) and Steve Sanders (46), have a strong bond. The former donated his kidneys to Steve, who has a rare genetic condition called uromodulin-related kidney disease (UKD).

Steve found out that his kidneys were rapidly failing. And unless he gets a transplant, he would need to undergo dialysis for the rest of his life—something he didn’t want to do as an active, single dad of two kids.

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“I did not want to go on dialysis … If you go on dialysis, it’s really taxing on your body,” he explained.

Despite his illness, Steve is active and healthy. He loves to ride his mountain bike and regularly visits the gym.

His kidney function is slowly declining.

Steve Sanders and his two kids inside an aircraft
Steve Sanders | YouTube

“We were beginning to have conversations a few years ago about, well, ‘You may need to think about a transplant if these numbers continue to go down — or dialysis,’” Steve said about his doctor’s comments.

He talked to people who have been through dialysis, and they told him they were “wiped out” after every session.

“To hear how it has impacted their quality of life, that was frightening for me,” he said.

Steve decided to do it himself and created a website that would allow him to search for a potential donor. He also posted it on social media in the hope that someone would respond.

His posts eventually started to get attention and at least 26 people submitted paperwork to become donors. However, nothing was coming through because people weren’t matches, or they stop the process early.

Steve Sanders
YouTube

Steve doesn’t harbor any resentment toward those who did.

“I don’t fault them for that,” he said. “I completely understand.”

He felt discouraged that not everything was working out. Steve thought he would have eventually to accept the possibility that dialysis could be a possibility.

He was able to avoid that fate. In late 2021, Steve got the news he had long been waiting for—he had an approved donor.

“It was a total relief,” Steve said when he heard the news. “I was happy that somebody was willing to give me a chance.”

Chris Perez with his family
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Chris heard about Steve’s situation through his wife in July 2021. Chris was told the story by a coworker.

She asked him if he would consider donating a kidney, and he thought, “Sure, why not?”

His wife reminded him to fill out his paperwork a week later. Chris began researching the kidney donation process and its potential safety and health risks, as well as how it would impact his quality of living.

“Once I felt satisfied with what I found, I downloaded the paperwork and I sent it in,” he said. “And then a couple of weeks later, they contacted me to start the process.”

Steve was a stranger, but that didn’t stop Chris from wanting to help him out as a fellow dad. He stated that he would love to have someone help him in this situation.

Chris Perez lying in a hospital bed
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“It’s really scary to think about. Here’s this serious health issue that you can’t control and is no fault of your own, yet could severely impact your quality of life and your ability to kind of see your kids grow up and spend time with them and things like that,” he said.

Chris also donated his kidney in order to teach his children kindness & empathy.

“I always tell my kids that we need to work really hard to be kind for others and kind toward others,” he explained. “I really believe that at the end of the day, our kindness and the way we are compassionate toward others — that’s the legacy we leave behind after we’re long gone.”

Chris didn’t reach out to Steve until he was officially approved as a donor so as not to get anyone’s hopes up in case something didn’t go right.

After Chris had passed all tests, the hospital asked him to give permission for Steve to use his phone number.

Chris Perez wearing a red shirt that says "Having two kidneys is so last year"
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Steve sent him a text the next day and asked for a call. They had hoped to chat for 15 minutes but ended up talking for more than two hours.

Steve said they had an “immediate connection” and said Chris was “like an old friend.”

“It was like I knew this guy my whole life without ever meeting him. We clicked right away,” he said.

They had many commonalities, which made it easy for them to quickly hit it off. Their sons shared the same names, had similar backgrounds and studied the same college majors.

Coincidentally, Chris worked as director of volunteer services at Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center, where his and Steve’s surgeries would take place.

Chris Perez and Steve Sanders hugging in the hospital hallway
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The men had their operations in January 2022. They visited one another while they were there.

Even after the transplant, Steve and Chris have continued their friendship, with the latter saying that they text “almost daily.”

“I got a kidney, but I also got a really great friend out of this,” Steve said.

It is truly a blessing to have someone give a piece of their lives to help you live a longer life. Chris and Steve both hope their story inspires others.

Click the video below from Atrium to learn more about this remarkable story of kindness.

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