Frank Kimchick and Cheryl Cohen, a married couple from New Jersey who both elected to donate a kidney earlier this year, are both hoping to inspire others to become altruistic kidney donors by providing a life-saving organ to a complete stranger.
“Frank and I, we’re normal human beings. We both have our jobs, and we live life like everybody else living life, and donating only affected a tiny part of our lives — a really short part of our lifetimes,” Cheryl, 60, tells PEOPLE for National Philanthropy Day on Friday. “We knew it would be a good thing to do.”
The spouses say they were inspired to learn more about altruistic kidney donation when Cheryl’s brother received a heart transplant that managed to extend his life for nearly a decade.
“He was given the gift of life for eight years through a heart transplant,” Cheryl says of her late brother. “And from there we just learned a lot about it.”
Cheryl later joined the New Jersey Sharing Network, a non-profit organization that helps recover and place donated organs and tissue for New Jersey residents. From there, she became even more acquainted with the precious process of organ donation. But it was three years ago when she met a woman in her 70s who donated a kidney to a stranger that Cheryl was hit with the idea of becoming a donor herself.
“I really started thinking, why can’t I do it?” Cheryl says. “About a year later, I went to get tested by a doctor, and started the process.”
There are more than 100,000 people on the kidney transplant waiting list at any time in the United States, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Over 3,000 people are added to the list each month, and 13 people die a day while waiting for a transplant.
“I went through a lot of good testing over time to make sure that I was healthy enough to donate an organ,” Cheryl says of testing to become a donor.
It was during one of Cheryl’s appointments that Frank announced, unexpectedly, that she wouldn’t be going through the process alone.
“The doctor looks at Frank and he’s like, ‘Well, how do you feel about your wife donating a kidney?’ ” Cheryl recalls.
“At that point,” Frank, 56, adds, “I looked at him and I said, ‘How would you like two kidneys?’ Because the whole time Cheryl was going through this process, I had already decided I wanted to do it too, but I didn’t say anything. I wanted it to be a surprise.”
The surprise worked.
“Just like the doctor, I nearly fell off my seat,” Cheryl says. “I was like, ‘Wow, we’re both going to do it, how cool.’ I was thrilled. I was thrilled that he said it.”
Cheryl donated her kidney in April, and Frank followed in July.
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Cheryl and Frank both say the recovery process was easy, and returned to their normal lives just days after the operation.
“We were inconvenienced a little to save somebody else from inconvenienced a lot,” Frank says. “Because they don’t have to go to dialysis a few times a week, their lifestyle isn’t as restricted as it used to be.”
“It wasn’t that hard to give one up for somebody else who didn’t have any functioning kidneys,” he adds.
Just as they were inspired by the heart transplant Cheryl’s brother received, the couple hopes others will be encouraged to help one of the thousands of people who are on the waiting list right now.
“It’s such a tiny amount of time to be able to provide that benefit to somebody else,” Cheryl says, “something that’s going to make their life, the rest of their life, that much easier and longer.”