Man from York County facing stage 5 kidney failure gets kidney, all thanks to former classmate

HARRISBURG, Pa. --  To some people, it probably just feels like another Tuesday afternoon.

For one York County man awaiting a kidney, it was anything but ordinary.

That's because T.J Bradley underwent a life-changing surgery - getting a new kidney.

"A little nervous," Bradley told FOX43 before surgery. "But I'm really excited, ready to get this over with, and get on with life."

T.J. Bradley says he's thankful for the woman, now considered family, who helped make that possible.

Her name is Rebecca Shannon, and like T.J., she's a Susquehannock High School graduate.

Shannon heard Bradley needed more time with his family.

He's suffering from Stage 5 kidney failure and spends hours hooked up to a dialysis machine just to stay alive.

"I'm blessed to be able to run around with my kids and jump around and coach sports, and I know T.J. wants those same things, so why hold back giving somebody that same gift?" asked Shannon.

Shannon had her surgery a few weeks back.

"It's just amazing that she would do this for me," said Bradley.

It's a surprise gift of life that will touch more lives than one when it's all said and done.

"Her kidneys are a little too small, so she wasn't able to donate directly to me... so she decided to go through the paired exchange to help me get a kidney," explained Bradley.

It's also known as a kidney swap, where recipients, like T.J., essentially swap their willing donors for a more compatible match.

As a result of this paired exchange? Four transplants were made possible.

"These kidneys go all over the country, fly, travel in cars, and they all have GPS in them so we know where the kidney is at all times," explained Becca Brown, nurse manager at the UPMC Pinnacle transplant office.

Brown says it can be risky.

"I always tell people to be cautiously optimistic when they're in a paired exchange transplant because there are multiple people in the exchange, and anybody can get sick at any time," she explained.

There have been a few hiccups, even surgery postponements.

"We've been to the point we thought surgery would happen so many times, and then things fell through... Our son got the flu," explained Rachel Bradley, T.J.'s wife.

This time though there is incredible hope -- that T.J's kidney crusade may finally come to a happy end.

"I told T.J. I had a dream last night we got to beat up his dialysis machine with a baseball bat - that's got to be a good sign!' laughed Rebecca.

Just before surgery, there were tears between old family and new.

"I'm not good with words, but we have been so blessed," added Rachel.

There are more than 100,000 people awaiting kidney transplants in the United States, according to the NKF's website.

Nurses say people on the deceased donor list can be left waiting for a long time.

However, when people like T.J are able to find a willing donor and take part in an exchange program, it can be life saving.

Read more about kidney disease.

Read more about the paired exchange organ program at UPMC. 

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