What would you say to the family of the man who saved your life?
Faith Tootell, 58 of Fremont, has had three years to think about it. On Friday, she came face to face with Kim and Michael Choppi, the parents of 24-year-old Michael who had passed away and donated his organs in 2011.
Both families – nervous wrecks.
“My stomach was butterflies and knots, I didn’t sleep well last night,” Kim said. “Very ill at ease, just worried and not quite sure what I was worried about. I think just meeting Faith and hoping for acceptance of us.”
Faith was feeling just the same. She said she was worried they would be disappointed when they saw who received Michael’s kidney.
“I’m going to try to convey to them the honor and privilege I feel,” she said, as she waited at Fort Mason in San Francisco to meet the Choppis.
It was an immediate embrace between the two women at the Fort Mason Community Garden. They began to cry as they hugged each other, finally meeting in person after writing back and forth for two years.
“It was an honor to meet her and even more special that she also is in healthcare. I think she truly understands how precious that gift,” said Kim, through tears. “It’s just very humbling to meet her and know that she’s paying it forward.”
“To me, it’s a life continued, even though it’s not Michael’s, but it still is a life continued,” said Michael Choppi, the donor’s father.
Faith said she’d been on the waiting list for a kidney match for 11 years and had just begun to prepare for dialysis, something that doctors told her might buy her five to six more years, when she got the news. She would get her match.
Turned out, this life-saving decision dated back well over a decade. As a teenager, Kim said all three of her children, including Michael, decided to be organ donors after their parents talked about why they had signed up.
“I want to say thank you to the 14-year-old child who decided to sign an organ donor card and had no concept that anything would ever come from it,” Faith said.
According to the California Transplant Donor Network (CTDN), there are more than 110,000 people on the National Organ Transplant Waiting List. Roughly 20 percent of them are listed in California transplant centers. In sum, one out of every three persons on the list is expected to die because there aren’t enough organs available, equating to roughly 18 people dying every day nationwide.
The CTDN has helped coordinate the meeting between the two families. It’s hosting a run-walk at Great America in Santa Clara on July 26. Faith is hoping her story will inspire others to do what Michael did.
“He was somebody clearly who was about life and living, and it’s really taught me a lot to appreciate every single second you have,” she said.