San Diego man with Down syndrome meets kidney donor for first time

Posted at 4:29 PM, May 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-09 21:11:31-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- A San Diego man with Down syndrome met the man who saved his life by donating a kidney for the first time Wednesday. 

James Wellman met his donor, Paul Williams, for the first time after having his life-saving surgery.

Wellman was diagnosed with Down syndrome when he was born, and in 2017 his kidneys were functioning at only 12 percent.

His family grew concerned after he was rejected for a transplant by several programs in Southern California.

A life-saving journey

Paul Williams was simply walking his dog in 2017 when something happened that would impact his life.

After the walk, Williams said he turned the TV on and saw a story on 10News about Wellman’s need for a kidney transplant.

"I called my wife into the room and told her what was being said on the television," Williams said. "I simply told my wife, ‘this is what I want to do.’ and so the journey began."

That’s where the journey started for Williams and his wife. "I was like, ok, and then I’m like, wow, all I could say, wow," Michele Williams recalled.

Hope at last

For James Wellman, the journey began with his birth and a diagnosis. "If he doesn’t get a kidney, he’s going to keep losing functions," Kathy Wellman said of her son, James.

In 2017, Wellman was told he was in end-stage kidney disease. His family says Wellman was rejected from several programs for a transplant.

James’ brother also tried to give his own kidney to help but couldn’t due to diabetes. That’s when the family met Williams.

"I had begun praying some time ago, is there something that God wanted me to do to help somebody else out," Williams said. "I just thought that the young man and his family had already dealt with an awful lot in life."

In February of 2018, Williams underwent surgery to give one of his kidneys to Wellman. The surgery, doctors said, was a success.

"The prayers of a family have been answered, and mine have been answered as well," Williams said.

Watch the story 10News story below:

The statistics

In San Diego and Imperial Counties there are more than 2,000 people on the organ donation waiting list.

More than 1,800 of those people are in need of a kidney, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network.

Nationally, more than 120,000 Americans are on the waiting list for an organ transplant while nearly 22,000 live in the state of California. 

On average, 22 people die every day while waiting for an organ that wasn't donated in time, according to Donate Life California. 

Roughly 81 organ transplants take place every day in the U.S. which equals about 29,000 people every year. 

Statewide, there are more than 14.5 million people registered as organ donors, or roughly 47 percent of California adults.

How to become an organ donor

Those who are organ donors could save as many as eight lives and those who are tissue donors could save or enhance the lives of as many as 50 people, according to the California DMV. 

You can sign up to become an organ donor or your next trip to the DMV or sign up online. Those interested in becoming organ donors can click here. 

People can also give a living donation. To learn more about living donations click here.

According to Donate Life California, a living donor can provide a kidney or a portion of their liver, lung, pancreas or intestine.