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12-23-02: Jim's gift to a stranger
Maria Stein native gets big gracias from family

The Daily Standard

    Maria Stein native Jim Moeller opened the greeting card proclaiming "Feliz Navidad" and the message inside seemed to leap from the paper.
    "Thank you for giving us our mother for Christmas."
    Any other gifts he receives during the holiday season will pale in comparison to the sentiments shared by the daughters of a Mexican woman - a complete stranger - who received his kidney during surgery performed earlier this year in California.
    The gift he gave so freely on May 29 at the University of Southern California Medical Center came about in keeping with a promise he made three years ago.
    Standing at the bedside of his brother-in-law and friend, former Mercer County resident Carl Cron, he prayed "God, I want to be used to do more. Please let me do more." The plea became an oath he took daily.
    Moeller offered to donate half of his liver to Cron, but tests indicated he was not a suitable match for the man who steered him to a 12-step alcohol recovery program and away from a life of self-destruction. Instead he watched helplessly as his friend's condition steadily deteriorated. He died awaiting a transplant.
    "I wanted so much to help him," Moeller said from his home in Lytle Creek, a tiny mountain town in Southern California. "I've never felt so helpless in all my life as when I stood next to his casket. I swore I would never let this happen again, that I would do what it takes to make sure I could help another person."
     Coming to grips with his feelings was difficult. Cron had been his anchor in the midst of a turbulent storm as he overcame alcoholism and put the pieces of his broken life back together. That was 22 years ago.
    "Carl could have let me go and taken the easy way," Moeller added. "But he didn't. He was with me the entire way, and it was an incredibly difficult journey."
    It took nearly three years, but the promise finally came true thanks to a combination of fate and a timely magazine story regarding the Non-Directed Living Donor program. Advances in anti-rejection medication has increased the success rate for transplants between nonrelated recipients and donors.
    Moeller, an avid jogger who owns the Serenity recording company, seldom reads the newspaper, but one day a voice from within told him to buy a copy. He slipped several quarters into his pocket and stopped at a newspaper rack along his route. He later flipped through the pages, finding little to hold his interest. Then he reached for the Parade Magazine insert and became absorbed in a story about living organ donors being sought for a program offered at USC.
    He placed the call in January of this year, totally convinced he could fulfill the promise by becoming a donor. Three months of testing ensued but his desire to help someone in need never waivered. After reviewing all the test results, from tissue typing to psychological evaluations, doctors accepted him into the program.
    The 54-year-old Moeller bided his time awaiting a call from the medical center. The weeks became exciting indeed as his son, Chad, was tabbed by the Arizona Diamondbacks to replace their injured catcher.
    "One day I drove by a kidney dialysis center not far from the medical center," he said. "There were cars waiting to go in and cars waiting to drive out. A staff member told me it was that way seven days a week. I prayed the call would come soon so at least one person wouldn't be tied to a dialysis machine any more."
    Toni Taylor, coordinator of the USC Medical Center's kidney donation program, called in late May. "Are you still sure you want to donate?" she asked. Moeller immediately replied, "Yes, absolutely."
    His answer triggered more calls including one to the intended recipient, a 38-year-old Mexican woman who was being kept alive by dialysis.
    "I couldn't wait to get to the hospital the morning of surgery," Moeller said. " I couldn't wait to fulfill my promise. I wondered whether the recipient was as excited as I was."
    The surgery - the second performed as part of USC's Living Donor program - went well. Surgeons made a small incision in Moeller's abdomen and removed one of his two healthy kidneys. The warm organ was placed in a sterile tray and carried to an adjacent operating room, where it was implanted into Valentina Carlos. 
    The remainder of the day went by in a blur. Moeller repeatedly asked how the Mexican woman was doing. However, he fell asleep before hearing the answer due to strong painkillers. Later that night, he asked again. A nurse responded in a happy voice, "She is doing great. Your kidney kicked in right away."
    Weak but elated, he laid back on the pillow and in a quiet voice said, "Thank you God. Thank you for using me."
    By mutual agreement, donor and recipient met two days later. Smiles lighted the faces of Valentina Carlos, her husband, their three young daughters and her father. An interpreter stood by since only the girls could speak English.
    "Valentina didn't speak a word of English and I couldn't understand Spanish," Moeller said. "This may sound strange, but we understood each other perfectly. We spoke from the heart and words didn't matter."
    He embraced her husband and father, later learning the older man had traveled from Mexico for the first time to say good-bye to his daughter. Her condition had deteriorated to a point where death loomed on the horizon. Now she had a new lease on life and a pink glow on her otherwise pale cheeks.
    Moeller, whose name is also on the list as a potential bone marrow donor, recuperated quickly. He has resumed his previous lifestyle with virtually no limitations.
    "I asked the doctor whether I would be able to do everything like before the surgery," Moeller said. "He said yes, with the exception of taking one kind of over-the-counter pain medication."
    Moeller answered the telephone two weeks ago. A soft-spoken voice, sounding strong and happy, shared the "Feliz Navidad" greeting and then handed the receiver to a staff member at the medical center. Valentina Carlos wanted to extend her own Merry Christmas wishes.
    "I would be lying if I said all of this has not had an impact on me," Moeller said. "I have concluded that God gives each and every one of us an abundance of gifts. If we don't use the gifts he gives us, we lose them. God blessed me with extremely good health and I was able to pass that gift to someone who really needed it. I figure God is going to call on me again to share his gift. I haven't figured out how yet, but I will."


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