HUDSONVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Eric Zane, Grand Rapids Griffins announcer and former West Michigan radio star, remembers the day vividly.
Zane, who now runs a podcast, was walking down the stairs of his home on a Saturday this May when he mumbled the name of an old high school classmate. He can’t, for the life of him, remember why.
His wife, Diana, overheard it and asked who it was. Zane brushed it off as some guy he knew from high school. But his curiosity led him online, where he learned the classmate from Cousino High School in Warren now had a successful film career in Los Angeles.
“Someone interviewed him because he’s a filmmaker. He makes shorts,” Zane said. “I go, ‘oh wow, he looks very prominent and successful. This is terrific.'”
Zane went to Facebook. He saw that there was already a friend request from his LA acquaintance. After accepting it, the two started messaging right away. Zane soon learned that life was anything but terrific.
“He revealed that he has a health issue, and I didn’t ask. I didn’t think anything of it,” Zane said.
The conversation stretched into Sunday and turned into a phone call.
“He said it’s stage five kidney disease. Now, I don’t know anything about kidney disease. But I’m assuming that stages — when you think about cancer — four and five are pretty grim. And it is.”
It was at that moment that Zane says something divine happened. A voice in his mind said to him, “do my will.” In that instant, he had decided he would give his kidney to this now virtual stranger.
“When it comes to religion, I am probably the most flawed idiot on the planet. I am judgmental. I am mean. I have a horrible mouth. I swear like you wouldn’t believe,” Zane said. “I look at people like me and think, you’re lucky a lightning bolt doesn’t strike you when you’re in a church.”
And yet, here he was, in his kitchen, believing that God was talking to him, committing to giving away a kidney to a man he hadn’t seen in over 30 years.
“My wife is across from me at that island there,” Zane said. “I know God’s talking to me, I’m committed to that, but I still need to talk to my earthly boss here. I’m like, OK, God, look, sit tight. Let me just take care of this formality. I think I know what she’s going to say but hang tight there. No disrespect, please.”
With God on hold, Zane brought it up to his wife. He asked her if she had found a friend, she only kind of knew from high school, who was struggling with kidney disease if she would give them her kidney.
“To her credit, she goes, ‘yes, oh my gosh. Yes, I would do that,’” Zane said. He then went on to explain what had just happened to him.
Within a matter of minutes, both decided to go online and fill out the hospital’s live donor form — a 10-minute process that changed the story for two lives.
“By the end of that evening, we had a phone conversation. He’s super emotional, and he is crying like a baby. He can’t believe it,” Zane said about when he told his friend his decision. “And I go, ‘I’m telling you.’ This is going to work, and he goes, ‘you don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.'”
Zane soon learned it was a precise process, blood work, the most extensive physical of his life, testing, board meetings, phone calls, even a trip out to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in California.
It was a thorough search that ultimately found both he and Diana were matches. Zane was a better match and was given the green light to give his organ to a man he now had a better relationship with than ever before.
When Zane called to share the news, it was an emotional three minutes, filled with thanks, tears and hope.
“I can’t even imagine. I mean, imagine having a horrible disease that will ultimately kill you, and leading up to that final period of time as your organs are slowly dying, they’re like ‘oh, we’ve had it with his dialysis machine.’ It’s awful, living like that,” Zane said.
His heart broke thinking about this man wouldn’t be able to watch his two boys grow up or live out his golden years with his wife.
“I just, I can’t really put into words where, how it’s, how it’s taken hold of me,” Zane said with tears in his eyes.
He says he did not research about kidney transplants. He didn’t want anything to detract his mind from his mission. But he did learn from his doctor that there were no out-of-pocket costs for him, that he could continue to do normal activity when he was recovered from surgery, and that statistically, those who give a kidney live longer.
What started with a random thought nearly seven-months ago came to a head Wednesday in Los Angeles. In a hospital room at UCLA, with his wife anxiously waiting close by, Zane had one of his kidneys successfully removed and given to a man he once only shared hallways with.
His mission now is to spread the word, inspire others to act, and be moved to with kindness and compassion.
He wants to share how easy it is to save a life. How life-changing that donation is for the recipient but more profoundly for the donor; restore a little bit of humanity he thinks the world has lost by conveying the importance of “appropriately caring for people who may not have anything to do with your life.”
“By God, by the time I rest my head at the end of my days, I want somebody to have been able to have committed to doing something like this and, and coming to me so that I can take them and say, ‘look, this is not that big of a deal. You can absolutely do this,'” Zane said.
Proof from a scar and a connection now running through the veins of two former strangers.
Learn more about becoming a live donor for the 100,000 Americans waiting for a match online.