Every spring, Stephenville resident David Swearingen remembers the gift - and the giver - that saved his life.
It was 1981 when David's older brother, Weldon, gave him a kidney. Thirty years later, David still gets choked up when he recalls how his brother never hesitated to give up one of his organs when he learned that David's had failed.
"He stepped right up and said, 'I've got one if you need one,'" David said. "He wanted to be the one to donate - and it just so happened that he was a perfect match."
Those who know David can see that he is not a sickly man. Standing more than 6-feet tall, David appears to be a man in very good health. He volunteers his time to several civic organizations including the Kiwanis Club and is a well-known area photographer who regularly snaps photos for the Empire-Tribune at various local events.
But when David was 16, he was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease. Glomerulonephritis is the inflammation of the glomeruli, bundles of tiny vessels inside the kidney. The damaged glomeruli cannot effectively filter waste products and excess water from the bloodstream to produce urine.
The disease was discovered when David was a junior at Stephenville High School.
"I was trying out for the baseball team and a routine urinalysis showed an unusually high level of protein in my urine," David said. "We have no idea how long I'd had it."
After further testing and a biopsy of his kidney, the disease was diagnosed.
"The doctors told me I would eventually need a transplant," he said.
At that point, his family was tested to see if anyone was a match.
Doctors told the family that Weldon was so closely matched to David that the two could be twins.
Receiving the gift
For the next two years, David felt pretty good. He graduated from high school and enrolled at Tarleton State University. During his second semester at college, David was plagued with extreme fatigue.
"I was overcome with total and complete exhaustion," David said. "I was so tired I couldn't even do my homework."
More testing showed that his kidneys had gotten progressively worse, and doctors said it was time for a transplant.
Following six weeks of dialysis, the brothers traveled to Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio where the transplant would take place. David was 18 and Weldon was 21 when on March 10, 1981, they were taken into adjoining operating rooms where doctors removed Weldon's kidney and transplanted it into David.
"They took the kidney out of Weldon and brought it right into me," David said.
The surgeries went off without a hitch and neither brother has had any serious complications associated with the transplant.
For 30 years, David has lived a strong and healthy life with his brother's kidney, and remains grateful for the gift.
"Weldon is the real hero in this story," David said. "God has blessed me with a wonderful and caring brother."
Weldon said his part, however, was no big deal and would do it all again if faced with the same circumstance.
"There is no question I would do it again," Weldon said. "He would have done the same thing for me if the tables were turned."
David will take anti-rejection medicine for the rest of his life - and continue to shine a light on the need for organ donors. He is a volunteer for LifeGift, a non-profit organization established in 1987 that assists patients in need of organ transplants.
"I want to encourage people to sign up to become an organ donor," David said. "Every 11 minutes, someone is added to the transplant waiting list."