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A couple calls to ask, 'Hey, can we donate our kidneys?' The stranger who got one is in awe

LARGO — Keshava Persaud entered the room inside Largo Medical Center, his wife at his side. His eyes went right to the couple across the room. They looked so young, he thought.

Tears welled as he handed the woman, April Scott, 49, potted white silk flowers and a big red heart balloon. They'd never met before Wednesday, National Donor Day, but her kidney had given him a second chance at life.

"Thank you," his wife, Pauline Persaud, told Scott, who with her husband, Steven Schmitz, made a big commitment last year. Each decided to donate a kidney to someone they didn't know.

"You are so brave," she said. "You really saved his life."

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For almost five years, Keshava Persaud, 56, who lives in Kissimmee, had been on dialysis. He thought he had been healthy, but doctors told him during a physical that his blood pressure was so high they couldn't let him go home. They sent him to the hospital and found both his kidneys were failing.

Each time he left for dialysis, their 7-year-old son would cry, Pauline Persaud said. But her husband had faith, she said.

"He kept saying, 'I'm going to get a kidney, I'm going to get a kidney,'" she said.

Last year, his health took a turn for the worse and he was hospitalized on his birthday. When his brother died, he was too sick to leave his bed. And he worried about his son, who kept saying he wanted them all to die together, not just daddy.

"We thought we were going to lose him," Pauline Persaud said.

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According to the National Kidney Foundation, 13 people die every day waiting for a kidney. More than 93,000 people are on the national waiting list for a kidney transplant. Usually, matches come from relatives or if an organ donor dies.

Keshava wondered if the donor would be someone who died in a drunk driving crash or overdosed on drugs. That would be sad, he thought. He prayed that God would do whatever was best.

• • •

Schmitz, 45, and Scott, who live in Indian Rocks Beach, started talking in bed after binge-watching Grey's Anatomy last summer. They'd reached Episode 5 of the fifth season, where doctors performed a domino surgery with six different kidney transplants. A little earlier, they'd been watching American Ninja Warrior, the NBC sports entertainment competition, and a contestant had found a kidney donor for his daughter.

They started talking and realized donating a kidney could be a way they could make a difference. They could donate just 10 minutes away at Largo Medical Center.

"I actually felt a little uncomfortable calling them," Schmitz said with a laugh. "I thought it was an odd request, 'Hey, can we donate our kidneys?' But they were really excited and they brought us in and educated us and started doing tests right away."

Said Scott: "The more we learned, the more it seemed like the thing to do."

Pauline Persaud said she was shocked when her husband told her doctors had matched him with a living donor, someone they didn't know.

"I mean to bravely go out and boldly give — it's generous," she said. "We come all the way from Guyana, we've never met and there's a part of you inside of him."

Dr. Hussein Osman-Mohamed, a transplant surgeon at Largo Medical Center who matched Keshava Persaud and Scott, said he's never seen a couple come forward like this during his 25 years in the field. They are known as "altruistic living donors," and last year they accounted for just 4 percent of the 5,812 kidneys donated nationally, the medical center said.

Organs from live donors have a better success rate than those that come from people who have died, Osman-Mohamed said.

"They work immediately and right away," he said. "If the average lifetime from a deceased donor is 10-15 years, from a living donor, it's 20 to 30 years."

Osman-Mohamed said he encourages others to consider organ donation as the recovery process is minimal and the recipient's insurance picks up the costs. Schmitz and Scott, who work at home, said they were back at their jobs within a week. Donors also have the option to back out at any time.

• • •

Pauline Persaud said as the days drew closer to her husband's surgery, they both stopped talking as much. She feared the donor would get cold feet.

"He kept saying God would come through, but I was more reserved," she said. "I was very scared."

On Nov. 28, Scott's kidney was transferred, as her husband's was five weeks earlier. Schmitz does not yet know the identity of the person who received his kidney.

Since then, Keshava Persaud's health has improved. He can eat things he wasn't able to before and gets to help his son get ready for school.

"They've given such a precious thing," he said of Scott and Schmitz. "Life."

Contact Divya Kumar at Follow @divyadivyadivya.