Priceless gift saves and changes lives

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Jason Buchanan and Brad Dugai are working with precision. As volunteers for the CARITAS Furniture Bank, they are putting cases on dozens of pillows.

Every pillow they place on a shelf will enhance the lives of men and women starting over. It seems only appropriate because, even though they have a meaningful past, the future is where they are focused.

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“Just to be born again, it’s a beautiful thought, such a beautiful thing to experience,” says Buchanan. “And I owe it all to Brad.”

Buchanan is the picture of health as he and Dugai banter back and forth.

“The kids don’t do it anymore?” he asks Dugai about his family.

Looking at Buchanan, it is hard to believe the 37-year-old, until recently, had been in pain for two decades.

“You question, ‘Why am I going through this? What have I done?’ And then you realize this is your test of life,” Buchanan reflects.

Diagnosed with kidney disease at age 16, Buchanan needed a transplant to save his life. He was on the list for five years.

It is a harsh reality for 100,791 Americans who are waiting for a donor, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

“Just to be born again, it’s a beautiful thought, such a beautiful thing to experience.”

One woman who was waiting for a transplant posted a sign at the Richmond DMV during the summer of 2015 to make a plea for donors to come forward.

It caught Dugai’s eye when he drove a friend there one humid day.

“It’s like the room went silent, and I just very clearly heard God say, ‘I gave you two. You only need one. What are you going to do with that?'” Dugai remembers.

After months of tests, Dugai donated his kidney to a stranger in Colorado this spring. His donation created a chain that made another match and then another.

Back here in Virginia, Buchanan got the call on August 22, which also happens to be Dugai’s birthday.

“Lo and behold, two weeks later I’m getting wheeled into the hospital, and I wake up and everything just changed for me,” Buchanan remembers. “My life began once I got this new kidney.”

51332c127e264128b6e996a6fa0fbb92Buchanan and Dugai just met in November at the Virginia Transplant Center at Henrico Doctors’ Hospital where both of their surgery stories began.

“We do a lot of work behind the scenes, and then that’s kind of like fruit of all of our labor,” says Melissa VanSyckle, the Center’s Living Donor Transplant Coordinator. “So it’s always very rewarding to hear stories like theirs.”

The two men have a bond now that only people brought together by life-changing circumstances could understand.

“I got this beautiful scar,” Buchanan gestures to his abdomen. “And every day that’s a reminder of the gift of life.”

Now together as volunteers, they give back to make this new chapter of their lives in this community whole.

“All of those different things that divide us,” Dugai chokes up. “This is just something that’s brought us together.”

Buchanan and Dugai know it was meant to be.

“It’s something that if somebody were thinking about, if they really wanted to serve somebody in a life-changing way, what a great thing to consider,” says Dugai. “The gift of life.”

Anyone interested in learning more about becoming a kidney donor can call the Virginia Transplant Center at (804) 289-4941.

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