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People Are Awesome: Paying It Forward With Kidneys Saves 30 Lives

A chain of people donating organs to total strangers started with one kind Buddhist in Riverside, California.

Last month, we told you about South Carolina's Corner Perk, a coffee shop where customers "pay it forward" by donating money to pay for other customers' drinks. Those customers then donate their own many to pay for other customers' drinks, and so on. The pay-it-forward model is not new, of course, and a cup of coffee at Corner Perk is a relatively small expense. But the idea of selfless giving is powerful in and of itself, and can change lives if applied to the right problem. One month later, selflessness similar to that found at Corner Perk has resulted in probably the biggest and most important pay-it-forward chain in history.

In August 2011, Riverside, California resident Rick Ruzzamenti donated one of his kidneys to an anonymous stranger in Livingston, New Jersey, out of the kindness of his heart. Ruzzamenti, a Buddhist, says he was inspired by hearing a friend's story of donating to one of her friends. When the anonymous man's niece, who had originally wanted to donate to her uncle but wasn't a match, found out what Ruzzamenti did, she decided to pay it forward by donating one of her kidneys to a stranger. From there, the chain was off, and seven months later, a total of 30 people have donated kidneys to strangers thanks to Ruzzamenti's initial kindness. The most recent recipient was Donald Terry, a 47-year-old man in Joliet, Illinois, who was told he'd have to wait for upwards of five years to have a transplant. Naturally, when a stranger stepped forward to help Terry out, it was quite a welcome surprise.

Despite the fact that his altruism may very well have saved several lives—67,000 people die annually from kidney failure in the United States—Ruzzamenti says he doesn't see anything too special about what he did. "People think it’s so odd that I’m donating a kidney," he says he told a transplant coordinator after undergoing a series of mental and physical evaluations. "I think it’s so odd that they think it’s so odd."


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