DENVER — It was a simple social media share that started to spread through the Colorado swimming community that ended up delivering hope to a family that considered the post a "Hail Mary."
The Franklin family – yes, that Franklin family – whose members include five-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer, Missy, knew the Facebook post was a last, life-saving ditch effort to find a donor match for her dad.
Dick is in end-stage kidney failure – from Polycystic kidney disease or PKD – an inherited genetic disorder that runs in the Franklin family. He inherited the gene and has a brother and sister who also have the disease.
"Unfortunately, I got it from my dad," said Dick. "Fortunately, it was a very late form, so I had a very healthy life up to a few years ago and the kidney function really started to go through the floor."
Two months ago, Dick and his family were preparing to go through the dialysis process.
"It's a meaningful solution for a lot of people, but I can't imagine being hooked up to a machine for four hours every other day for the rest of my life," said Dick. "I'm so thankful...that I've been able to avoid it."
The family tried everything and traveled down every road that may have led to an organ donor match.
"I didn't know if we would get a kidney or not. But the alternative was he had been on the transplant list for a year and he probably wasn't going to get a kidney for three to four years," explained Missy's mom, D.a.
More than 40 people reached out after seeing the post – no one was a match. Missy even offered to become her dad's donor, but her parents didn't want her to make that sacrifice with her young, growing family.
Missy's father-in-law went through the matching process, but because of an underlying health condition, it was a bust. One of Missy's Olympian friends volunteered, but it didn't work out either.
As their hope began to fade, they were delivered some unbelievable news: the doctors told them they had found a match.
The news couldn't have come soon enough. "All of sudden he was having to take naps in the afternoon and it wasn't an hour, it was three hours, four hours and then full night's sleep," said D.a.
That Facebook post was seen by Crissy Perham and unbelievably, she would learn that she shared so much in common with the Franklins.
"We were blown away, just absolutely blown away," said D.a.
"It was a very surreal moment when we found out not only did we have a match, but she was an Olympic gold medalist in swimming. It was just a full circle moment," added Missy.
Perham is a mom, a sister and a wife – and now she holds a new title – living organ donor.
"I'm also an Olympian and a really great karaoke singer, I mean, I have a lot of mysterious talents, I don't want to show all my cards at once," joked Perham. "But, this is my new title, living donor, and I really am amazed sometimes saying it out loud."
Building Awareness for Organ Donation
Perham was one of two people who checked all the boxes to be a possible match for Dick – and a week later, when the final tests came in from Centura Transplant, it was only her.
Originally, Perham thought she wanted to stay anonymous to the Franklins until she realized she was already a part of their family.
"Then I thought, maybe I don't want to be anonymous to the Franklins because we're kinda in the same swim family," said Perham. "We have a platform now. This is really special that we have found each other because of the Olympics and swimming – here we are sharing an organ, I don't know, we should talk about this."
They're now more than friends, they're family.
"We want to bring awareness of the importance of organ donation because there are Crissy Perhams in the world – there are amazing literal fallen angels who are here to save us and Crissy is ours," said Missy. "And there are people out there who may not even know it, but maybe if they learn about it they could feel called to do something like Crissy did for us."
Perham said her decision to donate was empowering.
"I'm proud of what I did and I'm a really, really, really healthy person and taking one kidney away from me, doesn't drastically impact my life, yet it's going to drastically impact the whole Franklin family."
Using Humor to Spread Hope
Humor – many people use it as a coping mechanism to get them through tough times. A laugh or a smile can cut through the sadness or the anger of a moment in an instant.
"There's a lot of joy that came from that kidney that is in him now," said Perham. "I gave my kidney full of joy."
Missy said the entire donation experience made her realize that meeting Perham was meant to be.
"She truly was made to be a part of our family, and that has been the most amazing part is getting to know Crissy and her husband Charlie and how absolutely delightful they are and they have our sense of humor."
"Very joyful, yes," said Missy. "He's got a very joyful kidney and a very sassy kidney."
After the successful surgery, performed by Centura Transplant, the crew came up with an idea for T-shirts they could share with the entire family.
"Mine says, 'Who wouldn't want a piece of this," said Perham. "Dick's says, 'I run on recycled parts,' and the one that didn't make the cut, 'Need a kidney? Urine luck!"
How to Become a Living Donor
Back in February, Missy Franklin made a plea for organ donation on 9NEWS to help those in need, including her own dad. Her mission was to do anything she could to raise awareness of the need for organ donors.
Her passion for organ donation led Missy to partner with the American Transplant Foundation to raise awareness of the need for more living donors.
There are more than 1,500 people currently on organ donor lists in Colorado. More than 200 Coloradans lost their lives waiting for an organ transplant last year.
Those who want to learn more about becoming organ donors can visit the American Transplant Foundation's website.
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