Editor's note: The following is adapted from an article about Paul McGrath '91 and organ donation that originally appeared in the Canisius High School Today Fall 2016 magazine. Paul is now working to find a living donor for a family friend who is dealing with end-stage kidney failure. Click here to read more about that effort.
Paul McGrath ‘91 (left) and Jim Ludwig (right), a 1991 St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute graduate, were born in the same hospital two weeks apart. They can recall specific times and places over the years where their paths crossed, such as high school sporting events. “Parallel routes, but we had never met,” says Paul. Then, Paul met Jim’s sister through an online dating site. MaryBeth Ludwig became Paul’s wife, and he learned that her brother might eventually need a life-saving kidney transplant. That time came in 2014 and MaryBeth assumed she’d donate her kidney since she and Jim had no other siblings or close relatives. Paul also volunteered to be tested as a potential donor.
Paul’s test results came back first showing he was a “zero mismatch”, meaning Jim’s body was unlikely to reject the kidney. “I had a decision. No one else knows—only the doctor and me,” recalls Paul. “I can say ‘I’m out’ and no one would ever know. But, once you are out, you are out. You are declared ‘medically unfit’. No one knows why. It’s sealed.” The process required him to make that decision without knowing whether his wife might also be a suitable donor. “If I withdraw and MaryBeth is not a match and there are no other candidates, we are at square one.”
Paul thought of his own good fortunes with health. He’d recently gotten back into shape and started running races again after having run cross country and track in high school. Being in good shape, his recovery from surgery would minimal. He considered the incredible odds—approximately one in 100,000—that he, a non-blood relative, would be a zero mismatch for Jim. “My number was called,” explains Paul. “If I don’t do this I’ll look back and think I could have done something but I just stood on the sidelines.”
The transplant took place December 11, 2014 at the Erie County Medical Center, and by December 29th Paul was back at work. Jim’s recovery took a little longer but he says he knew immediately Paul’s kidney was helping. “I still hurt from the surgery, but just getting those toxins out of my blood made me feel so much better,” says Jim. The St. Joe’s alum jokes that he now sometimes uncontrollably shouts “Go Canisius!” Both men are doing great and believe the circumstances that brought them together are more than just random coincidence. “There’s someone up there putting people where they need to be at the right time, putting people into people’s lives at the right time,” Jim says.
Both hope their story underscores the need for living organ donors. Paul emphasizes he quickly resumed his normal life after the surgery and is still matching his best run times. For Jim, the outcome is even greater. “He gets back to his normal life, and I get back to even better than what I had,” says Jim.