Eugene man donates kidney to fellow Vietnam veteran he hadn't seen in 45 years

James (Jim) McGee and Douglas Coffman were in the Air Force together during the Vietnam War. They met at the Defense Language Institute and studied North Vietnamese language in 1970. While they talk frequently now, they hadn't spoken for more than 45 years until a reunion brought them together in July. (Submitted photo)

EUGENE, Ore. - Two Vietnam War Vets hadn't spoken in decades until a reunion brought them together

A few months later, they met again: This time on an operating table for a life-saving surgery.

James (Jim) McGee and Douglas Coffman were in the Air Force together during the Vietnam War.

They met at the Defense Language Institute and studied North Vietnamese language in 1970.

While they talk frequently now, they hadn't spoken for more than 45 years until a reunion brought them together in July.

"It was a wonderful time to reconnect," Doug said, "and during that time I learned that one of our members, Jim McGee, had no kidney function and was on dialysis."

Jim had been on dialysis for more than a year by the time of the July reunion.

"My wife and I were on vacation in South Africa," Jim recalled.

He found himself becoming easily fatigued.

When they got back to the United States, he went to the doctor,

"My kidney function dropped down to about 5 percent," he said, "and soon there after my kidneys stopped working totally and I went into dialysis."

Jim was on two waiting lists for a kidney and hoped to get a kidney in 2 to 5 years.

Doug asked Jim what it took to become a donor.

"He said blood type," Doug recalled, "and I said, 'Well, Jim, what's your blood type? He said O positive and I realized right away well that's my blood type, maybe I can help."

Doug began going through the long testing process.

"24 hours of fasting and 12 hours of testing from dawn to dark," he said of the process. "Every imaginable test you can think of."

Doctors told Doug that his 70-year-old kidney was operating like that of a 35 year old.

So on September 18, Doug flew from Oregon to Washington, D.C., to give Jim something that would save his life.

"I chose the earliest possible surgery date," Doug said. "I thought that would be best for everybody concerned but particularly Jim being able to get off dialysis that much sooner."

Doug is recovering now and said he is getting stronger with each passing week.

Jim said he has a new lease on life and is getting back to what he enjoys.

That's the biggest thanks Doug could have asked for.

Every day, 22 people die waiting for a transplant that doesn't come, according to Donate Life Northwest.

Now that Jim has a healthy kidney, he will be taken off the list which allows someone else to take his spot.

As of October 5, there are 876 people in Oregon waiting for an organ transplant; 695 of those people need a kidney.

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