Joe Felix with the chain donation group and his two daughters. (Photo/ courtesy Joe Felix)

The best Father’s Day gift: from a stranger, an organ donation, and good health

A Los Angeles man, Joe Felix, was given an extraordinary gift just in time for Father’s Day.

Felix received a kidney transplant from a complete stranger through a kidney donation chain program.

“I had mixed feelings about this transplant, I didn’t want to get let down at the end, as it got closer, I saw this was actually going to happen, my appreciation grew,” says Felix.

Felix had been suffering from kidney failure since he was 22 years old.  He received a kidney transplant, from his brother that lasted him 13 years, but two years ago it began to fail him. His doctors told him the wait for a kidney transplant was seven to ten years with dialysis. Deanna Felix, Felix’s ex-wife, decided to donate her kidney to Felix, but was incompatible and unable to donate to him.

“I was in an emotional state, I was devastated, it was hard to hear that you are looking at seven to ten years of dialysis, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do it,” said Felix.

Dr. Jeffery Veale is the director of the Kidney Transplant Exchange Program at UCLA Medical Center and Felix’s transplant surgeon. He runs a chain donation program. The chain begins when a person decides to donate their kidney to a person that they do not know. The kidney is then donated to a person who has an incompatible family member willing to donate their kidney to another person.

“It just starts with one person that wants to give an organ to another person, just because,” said Felix.

Felix was able to meet his altruistic donor, Karen Willis, two days after the surgery was performed. He says he has a great relationship with her and met up with her family three times after the surgery for dinner.

“Sometimes I tell Karen that I have insomnia and her husband jokes that it’s because of the kidney, because Karen has insomnia too,” says Felix.

Willis and Felix were featured in a digital short documentary by Participant Media that follows the life of Felix, Willis, Deanna Felix and a Boston man, Phil Kissinger, who was the recipient of Deanna Felix’s kidney.

The participants of the kidney chain reunited after the surgery to meet each other, some for the first time.

“I was completely surprised to see Phil, I was surprised he was a tall white male, I thought we had to be the same ethnicity, but I was happy that he was doing well,” says Deanna Felix.

Joe Felix with his two daughters. (Photo/courtesy Joe Felix)

Joe Felix with his two daughters. (Photo/courtesy Joe Felix)

But the biggest relief after the donation may have been for Felix’s two daughters. Deanna recalls her seven-year-old daughter worrying whether her father would pass away.

“I remember my youngest daughter asked me if her dad was going to die and I said, ‘no he’s not,’ and at that moment I decided I had to do this,” Deanna says, recalling the moment she decided she would be a donor.
For Joe Felix, no more hours of dialysis anymore means one thing: being able to spend more time with his kids.

On his first Father’s Day without having to cope with a failing kidney, Felix is planning to go paintballing with his two daughters.  He says he happy to able to be able to do more activities with his kids that he could not before.

“ You take your health for granted a lot, if I were still on dialysis I would have not been feeling all that great on Father’s Day , it would have been pretty difficult to do,” says Felix.

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