The Gift of Life

To be touched by a stranger, to be given a second chance, to receive the gift of life, these are the so-called miracles of organ donation. In my thirty years, my life has been saved through organ donation not once, but twice, and I continually marvel at the incredible generosity of my two living organ donors.

My first transplanted kidney was given by my college piano professor’s wife, and I quickly went from being too sick to even make music in my own living room to making music for millions of people around the world. It’s thanks to her selfless sacrifice that I was able to become an American Idol finalist, marry my wife Christina, write my first book, and tour the world sharing my music and story with others.

That kidney lasted for eight years, but unfortunately, transplanted kidneys don’t last forever.  In September of 2014, doctors told me that my need for a second transplant was eminent.

And so I was put back on the transplant waiting list, and the wait for a new kidney donor began.  The wait time on the “transplant list” (for a deceased donor kidney) is typically three to five years, but the doctors had said my kidney function would reach zero within six months.  Fortunately, a number of individuals offered to be tested as potential living donors, which would allow a transplant to possibly happen much sooner.

In April 2015, I received the phone call I had been waiting for.  A kidney donor was approved for me, and the surgery was scheduled for June.  The donor, however, was not a family member or friend and chose to remain anonymous.

After nine months of hoping and praying, I underwent my second successful kidney transplant on June 4th at Vanderbilt Medical Center, still unaware of who was donating their kidney to me.  All I knew was that someone I’d never met had given a part of themselves in order to save my life.  I had never done anything to deserve her favor, yet she had decided to freely give her organ.

Six weeks after the transplant, my wife Christina and I had the chance to meet my kidney donor face to face.  Christina immediately recognized her as, unbeknownst to us, I had had my blood drawn right next to her and passed her in the hallways of the hospital numerous times prior to the transplant.  We learned she had been scanning through local Christian radio stations one day and had tuned into a station on which I was being interviewed by Karen Kingsbury, a famed Christian author and radio host.  My donor had never seen me on American Idol and knew nothing about my music career, but after learning about my need for a kidney, she called Vanderbilt and began the testing process.

Many people I talk with assume that our meeting was likely accompanied by tear-stained eyes and an array of emotions, but in reality, the emotional moment for me was finding out over the phone that I had a donor approved for me. Being able to say thank you in person was the icing on the cake.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the transplant, and thanks to my donor’s incredible selfless act, I’m now fully recovered and have resumed my music career. The astounding fact is, however, that there are over 100,000 other individuals currently still waiting for a life-saving transplant, individuals just like me with skills and talents to contribute to society. That is why the cause of organ donation is so important to me – that is why I have partnered with organizations like Donate Life America and the National Kidney Foundation to raise awareness about organ donation. I understand that not every person may feel inclined to become a living donor and offer up a kidney to someone else in need, but I do encourage everyone to become a registered organ donor and give hope to the tens of thousands of individuals still waiting for a life-saving transplant.

The sacrifices of my two living donors are powerful examples to me of how a single selfless action can impact the world for good. Not only did my donors set an example and give hope to the tens of thousands still waiting, but by allowing me to live out my life they indirectly touched the lives of people all over the world. It is my sincere desire that the life I continue to lead thanks to them will somehow reflect their spirits of selflessness and inspire others to follow in their footsteps.