Yet Another WNYer Inspired To Donate a Kidney To A Stranger

7:36 PM, May 23, 2013   |    comments
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BUFFALO, N.Y. - At first glance you might think Mark Schifferle and Robert Murphy are an unlikely set of friends.

Mark lives in Wheatfield, Robert on Buffalo's East Side.

But as it turns out they share a lot of things.

Among them: a love of fishing, a sly sense of humor and lunch together every Wednesday.

Soon they'll be sharing something else- one of Mark's kidneys.

Mark had been thinking about becoming a living donor for a while.

Then last year he saw a story we did about a guy from North Tonawanda, Greg Emminger who donated one of his kidneys to a total stranger, someone he had found through a website called the Western New York Kidney Connection where people in need of a kidney can post their bios for potential donors to see.

Mark Schifferle: 'It was like click, a big click (went off) and Western New York Kidney (Connection) so I went on the computer and pulled up bios, it's the greatest thing in the world you get to pick and choose (who you want to donate to)."

And that was very important to Mark because he wanted to choose someone with a specific background to receive one of his kidneys.

He wanted a Vietnam Veteran.

Scott Brown: "Why did you want to donate to a Vietnam Vet?"

Mark Schifferle: "Because I easily could have been there myself. I was 14 numbers away from being drafted, but for the grace of God I could have easily been there myself. I'm not doing this for any other reason than to help somebody and put that war to rest."

So he went to the Kidney Connection web page and came across the bio of Robert Murphy which said in part:

"I graduated from East High School and went into the Army and was in Vietnam from 1967 to '68, I received the purple heart and the bronze star. I am an active member of Calvary Episcopal Methodist Church, I enjoy fishing and playing pool.

"I am grateful for all I have and hope that I will be given an opportunity for a second chance through a new kidney. Thank you for reading my profile."

And that as they say, was the start of a beautiful friendship between Robert and Mark.

Robert Murphy: "I was home that night watching TV and I got a call from a guy saying my name is Mark and I want to give you a kidney and I'm saying OK right. It was about a week before I called him cause I thought it was a joke, somebody playing a joke. And then I called him and found out he was serious and then we've been friends ever since then."

We spoke with the two friends about a week before their surgery.

Scott Brown: "What kind of guy is he?"

Mark Schifferle: "Like the big brother I never had, we're like the integrated Mutt and Jeff."

Scott Brown: "What do you think of this guy and what he's doing for you?"

Robert Murphy: "I think it's great. He's a great guy, I told you even if he wasn't giving me a kidney, Mark is a great person. You just don't find people like that. They just don't come along, they're very rare. Like they say if you've got five friends, you can count them on your hand, he's one of them."

Scott Brown: "It seems like in a week or so you guys are going to be joined forever?"

Robert Murphy: "Oh yeah, be like geese - mates for life you know."

Although Robert and Mark laugh a lot when they're together, there's one part of our story that's no joke.

For the last four and a half years, Robert has been on dialysis. And that means three times a week for three and a half hours each time, he's tethered to a machine that removes waste, salt and extra water from his body.

And because he's on dialysis, the amount of fluid Robert can take in is severely limited, and that can mean everything from a glass of water to many fruits that contain a lot of liquid.

Scott Brown: "How much of a change in your life is it going to be not to come here (for dialysis)?"

Robert Murphy: "It's going to be like a new lease on life. A life changer. I don't have to worry about how much water I can drink, how much fluid I can take. Don't have to worry about coming to dialysis. That's not a normal life. I'm ready, I'm ready, I waited four and a half years, so I'm ready."

It's now one week before the surgery.

Mark and Robert are in adjoining rooms at ECMC going through their final tests.

Robert gets final instructions on all of the medications he'll take after the surgery to prevent his body from rejecting Mark's kidney.

Both men are cleared and the surgery is a go.

Scott Brown: "All the testing's done how do you feel?"

Robert Murphy: "I'm excited, I'm ready, all go."

Scott Brown: "Have you thought about the changes for your quality of life?"

Robert Murphy: "I thought about all the water I could drink."

Mark Schifferle: "Testing's finally over we're getting down to it, I'm excited about the whole thing. I'm ready, let's do it. Let's do this."

It's the morning of the transplant.

Mark is already in surgery

Robert will be brought down shortly.

Among the family members with him is his sister who's come up from Philadelphia.

Scott Brown: "What did you think when you heard a total stranger was going to donate a kidney to him?"

Pam Ackason: "I'm a very spiritual person and I just said God has answered our prayers. So what more can we ask for? God is good, yes."

Scott Brown: "This is the day how are you doing?"

Robert Murphy: "I'm not nervous or nothing, I'm just excited, ready to go."

Mark's surgery is going well. Doctors are preparing to remove his right kidney.

ECMC has permitted us to be right in the operating room as we continue to try and increase awareness about living donors.

Scott Brown: "How much better is a kidney from a living donor rather than a deceased one?"

Transplant Surgeon Dr. Mark Laftavi: "Very much better. I always say it's like you buy a brand new car or a used car.That's a simple way of saying. The longevity of this kidney is normally better, the function is better.

"Normally we expect this kidney to work twice compared to the deceased donor. Let's say if a deceased donor works eight nine years, this kidney probably works 18 years, 20 years."

After about three hours of surgery, Mark's kidney is ready to be removed.

And then Dr. Laftavi walks right by us with Mark's kidney, and Robert's future in his hands.

The doctor then begins prepping Mark's kidney for the transplant.

With the kidney on a tray filled with ice, Dr. Laftavi walks it right next door where Robert is all prepped and ready. The less time the kidney spends outside the body the better it is.

From the time Mark's kidney was removed it takes just 25 minutes to implant it into Robert.

Dr. Mark Laftavi: "There's nice pulsing in the kidney, nice pink color and that's what we normally want to see. The kidney starts to make urine, so that's a good sign the kidney starts to pee after ten minutes, five minutes. That's very good when the kidney starts functioning on the table that means it's a good outcome."

Robert's sister then gets the good news from the doctor.

Dr. Mark Laftavi: "Yeah he's doing very well, making some urine and the donor is also doing very well, both of them somebody has prayed for all of us."

Pat Ackason: "Oh yes. Praise God thank you so much. All right everything will be fine. I'm feeling ecstatic I'm so happy we waited for this for a long time and I prayed for this for four and a half years and it has finally come about."

It's not hard to tell which is Mark Schifferle's home in Wheatfield - it's the one with the big sign made by a neighbor that says "Welcome Home To Our Hero Mark."

It's just a week after surgery and the first time that Mark and Robert have gotten together since they were released from the hospital a few days ago.

They toast each other's good health, not with champagne but with something that tastes even better to Robert- a glass of ice cold water.

Scott Brown: "Now that you're out of the hospital what do you think about the guy sitting next to you?"

Robert Murphy: "I can't say enough about him. He's a great guy, it's like a miracle you know?"

Scott Brown: "When you hear him say it's like a miracle how does that make you feel?"

Mark Schifferle: "It puts the last piece in place, it was a no- brainer picking him, it's just been a dream come true."

Now with the transplant a success, Mark can finally put the war behind him and Robert has a new life ahead of him.

Their friendship has turned into something much deeper. Mark is planning on taking a special trip later this summer.

Robert Murphy: "He's going to our family reunion down in North Carolina in August, he's a member of the family, my sister made him a member of the family.And she done told all the family members, so she's waiting on them to come welcome him and his wife."

Scott Brown: "New brother and sister?"

Robert Murphy: "Oh yeah, lifetime member now. Yeah, we blood brothers."

Contact the Western New York Kidney Connection

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