Polycystic kidney disease can be devastating to victim’s lives. The disorder causes one’s kidneys to enlarge and eventually lose function, due to clusters of cysts that grow and develop on the organs. Besides loss of kidney function, victims can develop colon problems, heart issues, chronic pain, and for 35-year-old Melinda Ray, growth of cysts on the liver.
In September, Melinda’s liver was growing larger and putting stress on her other organs. The mother of three needed a donor, and needed one fast, according to PEOPLE.
But Melinda had begun to run out of options, since her search for donor candidates had proven unsuccessful. Her strength began to dwindle, so she turned to the internet for help.
Melinda asked Facebook for help in finding liver donor candidates.
Friends and family, I want to acknowledge all of the people who have so graciously offered my family and myself help….
She wrote a lengthy and touching Facebook post to “touch someone out there” and find a donor. She pleaded with her Facebook friends:
“I want you to understand how I’m feeling and that I’m not ready to go. I have so much more to do and its all good things. I’m not an unhealthy reckless person who got myself into a bad situation and now I need help. I need someone to come forward and I also hope to have someone read this and go, oh man, I have my health and I am going to start living today and every day to the fullest and never have any regrets. Just think about it please.”
After explaining her illness, she said, “I have a plea, if you have room in your heart to make a difference for someone, even if you don’t know me, as a mother, a daughter, an auntie a friend, you could save my life.”
Amazingly enough, her choice to go to Facebook for help worked, and she soon came across potential donors. Melinda’s sister had a friend named Robin Ihnfeldt, and she saw her post. She then texted her husband, Jeff Bramtedt and he was instantly ready to be on board in helping Melinda.
The 13-year Navy SEAL veteran explained to PEOPLE that, “When my wife told me about it, it just wasn’t okay with me that somebody was going to die.”
“It took me literally two seconds to make a decision and I just said, ‘I’ll do it, let’s go.’”
The gracious married couple decided to try to help Melinda.
Both of them signed up to go through the screening process to find out if they were good matches. Robin was soon found to be a less than ideal candidate, but James continued with the screening process with blood samples, social history questions, and intensive tests. He was a match!
After testing, Jeff and Melinda met up, and during that moment they knew they would be friends for life.
“As soon as I saw her, I was just instantly connected to her. They’re just such amazing people,” Jeff told PEOPLE. “We just talked for about an hour, and just got to learn about each other’s families, and we knew right away we were going to be connected for life.”
Jeff agreed to go through a 10-hour surgery to give Melinda 30 percent of his liver. He was warned by doctors that he was putting himself in great risk by undergoing the surgery, but the former Navy SEAL, movie stuntman, and skydiving instructor was ready to save a life!
The surgery was a success!
After the surgery, Jeff recovered in ICU for two days. He slept for a significant amount of the time after being released to go home, and he had a lot of medications to take. But all of this was worth it, because he gained a friend in the process.
“I never had a little sister before, and now I do,” Jeff says. “I love her just like she was family, like she was a blood relative. In essence, she kind of is, we share DNA at this point. She’s stoked on life, and I’m excited for her.”
This experience changed the way he viewed the world, and he hoped other people would also be inspired to become organ donors.
“If you have health and are strong, and if you are young and have all this energy and love to be active, maybe you are a prime candidate for somebody and can affect their lives in a positive way,” he said.
“An average guy can step up and be a hero to somebody whose life is going to end. Hopefully, we can make my and Melinda’s story not so extraordinary.”