ST. LOUIS – We like to think there isn't anything we wouldn't do for a friend, but Michael A. Moore has the proof: On Thursday, he donated his kidney to his best friend, and to do so he lost 50 pounds in five months while chronicling his experience in video clips on YouTube.
Stephen Gottschalk, 50, of Hillsboro, Mo., says it's clear his friend Moore, 51, is saving his life. Moore, in return, says Gottschalk has given him a new lease on his own.
In 2006, Gottschalk was weak, started getting itchy sensations and couldn't sleep at night. He has Alport's disease, a genetic condition that caused his kidneys to fail. He started dialysis that year, but knew it wasn't a permanent solution.
Moore, his friend since junior high, called him last year and said he wanted to be tested to see if he could donate a kidney.
"On Nov. 19, they said we have some good news and some bad news. You're a match, but you're pre-diabetic, so we can't take you," Moore recalled.
He decided being pre-diabetic was something he could change, and set out to lose weight so he could become a good donor candidate. He went on the low-carb Atkins diet, lost about 25 pounds, and when his weight loss slowed, began intense workouts, including bike rides.
He started recording videos and posting them to YouTube. They're numerous, low-key and were just intended for Gottschalk, to keep his spirits up, but hospital officials say they also help to shed light on his organ donation process.
Dressed in activewear and running sneakers at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis the day before the transplant surgery, Moore was down to 200 pounds from 250, and said he conquered both the "turkey waddle under his neck" and his former "man boobs."
"If you came to me on Nov. 19, and said, 'Mike, you've got to stop eating chocolate or you'll die,' I'd have said, 'Let's order a chocolate cake and plan a funeral.' I would not have lost this weight for myself."
But for Gottschalk, he could. The two cemented their friendship when they played on the same football team at Hillsboro High School, participated in weekend rodeos and hung out with the same group of friends. "He was the academic; I wasn't. He had a car; I didn't," said Moore, clearly the extrovert in the friendship.
They started their careers together in the 1970s, working first for a construction company and then at an ill-fated attempt to drive a truck together.
"Oh, it was bad. His feet stunk, and I snored," Moore recalled.
Over the years, the two would see each other a few times a year. Moore, his wife and family moved to Westfield, Ind., where he owns a safety consultant business and serves as a volunteer firefighter.
Gottschalk, a father of three who works as a technology manager for a telecommunications company, remained in Hillsboro, and the two stayed in touch.
Gottschalk lay in a hospital bed the day before the surgery, undergoing dialysis. Because kidney disease runs in Gottschalk's family, his relatives had not been suitable donor candidates. But he hadn't asked Moore to be a donor; his friend had volunteered, a gift for which Gottschalk can't quite find words.
"He's going to save my life. How do you...? I'm just in awe of the whole thing. It's hard to describe in words," he said.
For Thursday's six-hour surgery, the friends were under anesthesia side by side in adjacent operating rooms. There were two surgeons at work, one in each operating room. Dr. Surendra Shenoy made a 6- to 7- centimeter incision in Moore's back, while Moore was on his side.
After the surgeon removed the kidney, she handed it off to Dr. Niraj Desai, in a bowl of ice. Desai held the organ in his hand, flushing it out with a preservation solution and preparing it for the transplant.
Barnes-Jewish does about 120 to 150 kidney transplants annually. Nationwide, about 16,600 were performed last year, said Barnes-Jewish spokeswoman Kathy Holleman, citing United Network for Organ Sharing Statistics.
Having a best friend who works as a kidney donor match isn't common, but also not unheard of. What amazes most who learn of the men's story is not the science of the transplant, but the strength of the friendship.
Both men were doing well immediately after the operations.
After the surgery, Moore planned to give Gottschalk a "deed of transfer and ownership" for Gottschalk's new organ. Printed on official-looking document paper, it said Moore had freely and willingly donated his right kidney to his friend.
It did, however, contain a few joking disclaimers for things Moore wouldn't be held responsible for, including, "any neglect to kidney prior to transplant that may or may not have been caused by consumption of Anheuser-Busch or like products."
And he joked if he was in pain after the operation: "I look forward to sitting in Steve's recovery room and blaming him."