April is organ donation awareness month, and according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, more than 103,000 Americans are waiting for an organ transplant. That number includes more than 2,100 people in the state, according to Donate Life Arizona.

Jerry Heikkinen and Deborah Waite have been friends for decades, despite living on opposite parts of the country. In 2021, Waite’s kidney began to fail after a series of health problems. Her immediate family members werent matches, but Heikkinen was, ending Waite’s wait after nine months.

When you go on dialysis until you find a donor, its a change in your lifestyle, and I knew this was going to change again, Waite said.

She said she was told it could take five years to find a deceased donor and that a living donor would make for a smoother transition and recovery.

Heikkinen called the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to see if he would be a viable candidate for donation. He said the woman on the phone was unsure because of his age, but he went through the process of seeing if he was a match and through the associated physical testing anyway.

(I) went in with my eyes wide shut,” Heikkinen said. “I didnt know what to expect.

He received a call on his way back from Minnesota to Arizona that changed Waite’s life.

He went through a lot, so, it was nice to reach a point where I have a donor, Waite said

October, 21, 2021 is a date that the pair will never forget.

Now, with my kidney I can do everything I did before I had dialysis so youre not stuck at home or feel like I dont want to go too far,’ Waite said. “For one thing Im not tethered to a machine.

Waite and Heikkinen spent a couple of days in the hospital recovering and making sure the surgery was successful. Waite says she never considered the impact of organ donation until she benefited from one.

I just never thought about it, but once you experience (one) you (realize how) life changing (it is),” Waite said.

Waite and Heikkinen are now advocates for organ donation, especially during the month of April; the month dedicated to organ donation awareness.