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A Living Stranger Gives a Piece of Himself, His Kidney, to Save a Mother's Life

03/23/2015 04:37 pm ET | Updated May 23, 2015

We've all heard about the amazing story of a school teacher donating her kidney to her student. There is no question what a truly loving and unselfish gesture that was.

More incredible than donating to someone known or related is that many people are donating organs to absolute strangers -- living donors giving away a major body part to someone who they have never met.

For example, Dan O'Connor, who is the kind of guy who would give a stranger the shirt off his back, as the saying goes. Being generous is one thing, but Dan gave a total stranger one of his kidneys in a heroic organ donation. By doing so, he saved Andrea (Andi) Seitchik's life.

It is almost unimaginable to think of allowing surgeons to cut open your body and take one of your organs to give to someone who you have no vested interest in, and no sort of bond. Yet, all it took for Dan was a simple bedtime mention by his wife that her cousin's Facebook friend was in dire need of a kidney from a live donor, and that Dan's blood type matched. That conversation led Dan to visit Andi's Facebook page, and that was all it took to make him determined to follow through with testing. Both lived only about 50 miles apart in Pennsylvania.

Andi, was told pointedly by doctors that it was a real long shot to find a living donor given her antigen profile, and as many years long wait for a deceased donor. Still, she stayed positive.

A longtime beloved business and marketing teacher in a public school in Philadelphia, Andi had been battling focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) for the past 15 years. After doctors informed her that she had no kidney function left, she was outfitted for dialysis just in the nick of time in March 2014. A usually high energy person, she completed the school year and was unwilling to give up her summer job at as a camp director, so she bravely brought her portable home dialysis equipment with her and went off to camp shortly after.

Still, due to scar tissue build up in her kidney, Andi was not a good candidate for long term dialysis and she was in desperate search of a kidney donation. She was told it would be "five years to never" to receive a kidney from a donor who had died because her antigen count was so high. (Antigens must match between donor and recipient.) So Andi and her daughters Lexi, age 23 and Madi, age 18 took her quest to find a living O positive blood type person to donate a kidney to her via social media. They used Facebook to create a page, called "Fight for Andi" to be shared among thousands of Facebook users pleading for someone with her blood type to consider being a donor.

Before long Andi was hearing from people who were being tested, but with so many factors having to match the patient, most went no further than a blood test.
That is until Dan O'Connor came along.

What made him want to make a gesture so extraordinary, it defies understanding? Dan explains that he lost both of his parents at a young age, and kept thinking of Andi's two daughters who would be without a mother.

"I had no hesitation at all," Dan said. "Something inside just told me to do it."

A healthy person at age 42, Dan passed several rounds of testing and was a match for Andi, who he still "didn't know from Adam." He was told the risks and was given the option to opt out on four occasions, which occured each time he passed another phase of testing. Along with educating about what living with one kidney meant, he was told there are no benefits and was warned of any and every complication that might happen. That could have scared someone off, but not the determined Dan. He was even given psychological testing, as is standard for these altruistic organ donations.

"Doctors explained that with two kidneys you have 100 percent function, but with one kidney you have 75 to 80 percent function and it will still filter out toxins as a kidney is supposed to do," Dan said.

Dan never wavered once during the long process. His wife was totally supportive too.

"I just felt the need to do this, not to be a hero, just to help someone out," Dan said. "I never had a thought of backing out. Then, when I met her at the last stage of testing, we really had an immediate connection."

Dan was the miracle Andi was hoping for. He matched her five out of five possible antigens. They both knew it was meant to be. During the transplant operation, Andi's new kidney from Dan started functioning on the operating table. Doctors remarked that it was so because his kidney was a perfect match.

Dan recovered from the laparoscopic surgery in the six week period as expected, but Andi had a few setbacks. Her wound did not heal properly and her antibodies were too high making a medication adjustment necessary so her body would not reject the new organ.

Both are now fully recovered and Andi recently returned to work, to great fanfare among the student body at her school.

Though the testing was last summer and the operation was just this past fall, both Dan and Andi and their respective families are a part of one another's life now. The gesture has created a familial feeling for both Dan and Andi. Both of their families have become as close as true family, spending holidays together and keeping in close touch. As they got to know each other from this process, Andi said it's like they have known each other all of their lives. Dan's two young daughters and Andi's daughters get along beautifully too and they all share a wonderful relationship.

"It's so hard to wrap my brain around sometimes, what I feel for Dan," Andi explained. "It's like I have a piece of him so together we are one whole person, joined by a kidney."

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Pictured from Left to Right: Dan O'Connor, Andi Seitchik, Lori Stein O'Connor and Lexi Seitchik
Photo taken by Teresa Ellerkamp Sinclair