74-year-old Wimberley man donates kidney to stranger to 'end someone's suffering'

Many living kidney donors give to someone they know, a family member or friend. There are also altruistic donors, who donate to strangers.

"I still see myself as the delivery system," said Tom Duncan, of Wimberley. "I am not the great act. I am the small act of great love. So, that’s the part of me that I’m carrying with me, that’s really pretty special."

That act of great love for the 74-year-old grandfather was donating a kidney to someone he has never met, in an effort to save a life.

"If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have waited so long," said Duncan.

He was inspired to give the gift of life after his good friend went into kidney failure, and had to go on dialysis. But, when another donor was chosen for his friend, Duncan realized he could still help someone else.

"So, what I did, I stepped back and really re-thought this, why was I doing this," he asked himself. "And, the answer was simply to end someone’s suffering."

After undergoing rigorous medical tests and being cleared by doctors, on Dec. 6, 2022, Duncan had a kidney removed at the Kidney Transplant Center at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center. All he knows about the recipient is that they live in the greater Austin area.

"It's really wonderful to know that there are people like this, that are out there, that are willing to help others and in many cases they'll never meet," said Dr. Koushik Shaw, a living donor surgeon for the National Kidney Registry at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center.

Dr. Shaw was Duncan’s surgeon. He said, if you’re healthy, don’t let age hold you back from giving.

"Many, many studies have come out to show that as long as these patients continue to live a healthy lifestyle in terms of diet, exercise, weight management, lack of smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation. They're expected to live as long if not longer than the average population, even after giving up a kidney," he said.

A little more than two-months post-surgery, Duncan said he’s feeling great.

"I’m 100-percent," he said. "In 11 days, I was off all painkillers including Tylenol. Started walking 2 ½ miles again, that’s my daily routine. I’m not limited to anything."

About a month before the surgery, Duncan sent his recipient a note, through the transplant coordinator.

"I said, please don’t worry. Everything’s going to be okay. I’m sure of this, I really am. And, just signed it, love Tom."

He sent another note after the surgery wishing his recipient well and letting them know he was doing well, too. He included his name and phone number in case the recipient ever wanted to contact him.

"That would be a real plus," said Duncan. "But, that’s bonus material."

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, close to 90,000 Americans are on the transplant waiting list for a kidney. In Texas, that number is almost 10,000. 

The wait for a kidney from a deceased donor can be three to five-years or longer, depending on the transplant center. It’s time many people, whose kidneys are failing them, don’t have.

If you’d like to learn more about becoming a living kidney donor, click here.