2 U.S. airmen, Vietnam vets forever connected by lifesaving kidney donation from one to the other

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Two men who served in the Air Force almost 50 years ago trained together in California. After they served our country, they returned home and parted ways.

Jim McGee and Doug Coffman didn't reconnect until a recent reunion of their training class at a memorial service for one of their fellow Vietnam veterans. It was the first time the men had seen each other since 1971. That's when one of them learned the other was in urgent need of a new kidney. The operation happened Tuesday at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

McGee, a retired foreign service officer and former U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe and Madagascar from Sarasota, Florida, was undergoing dialysis three times a week while waiting for a kidney donation.

"We have not seen each other face to face until we met in Monterey about three months ago, which was an excellent time," he said. "Doug, at that point, volunteered a kidney, and to me, it's the gift of life."

"Our blood and tissue type match is good," said Coffman. "And to me, it just is living proof that we're all part of one human family. The chances of our match -- I don't know what the odds were, but we beat them."

And for that, McGee says he is grateful.

"It means that I can continue the things that I'm so passionate about trying to move ahead," he said. "One of the things that I'm most passionate about right now is making certain that everyone understands that there's a national crisis -- 100,000 people are waiting for kidney transplants, another 15,000 for liver transplants. It's people like Doug who stepped forward and make the difference. That's the real story here today."

McGee tells FOX 5 it could have taken another three to five years to receive a new kidney had he not reacquainted with Coffman.

Additionally, the surgeon at the hospital said that despite being 70 years old, Coffman has kidneys like a 35-year-old.