Health + Behavior

‘Laker for a Day’ Facebook video inspires man to donate his kidney

Story of altruistic organ donor acts as tipping point for son’s decision to donate a kidney to his ailing father

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Gilliam family
Los Angeles Lakers

Brian Gilliam, left, donated a kidney to his father, Dana, and the two were later honored as Los Angeles Lakers for a Day.

His father’s failing health weighed on his mind every day. 

Brian Gilliam, a shoe salesman at Nordstrom, had been watching his dad, Dana, 69, slowly deteriorate from end stage kidney disease for more than two years. His father endured daily, 12-hour dialysis treatments while he waited for a kidney donation.

“Watching my dad go through this was not easy,” said Brian, 48, who lives in the city of Westminster in Orange County. “He was always a strong guy and we were watching him lose his drive through all of it.”

Brian and his wife, Roxie, started seriously discussing the idea of Brian donating a kidney to his dad.  

“I was thankful that he wanted to donate his kidney but I was mindful of what that might do to him,” Dana said. “But he was very plain about what he wanted to do.”

Once Brian made the decision to donate, he said he noticed little signs reinforcing his choice starting popping up —a reference to kidney donation on a TV show, something he heard on the radio, a news story about a surgeon donating to a colleague.

Then came the biggest sign.

An avid Los Angeles Lakers fan, Brian always watched the team’s social media feeds. He was casually scrolling his Facebook page when he saw a video about a woman named Dawn Dorland Perry, who was being recognized as a Laker for a Day in February 2017 by the team and its health partner, UCLA Health, for donating her  kidney to a stranger.

As it turned out, she and Brian’s dad shared the same surgical team at UCLA.

“This was my final sign, my tipping point, my inspiration,” Brian recalled. “It felt like a calling to me.”

With his mind made up, Brian contacted the UCLA kidney transplant program and began the donor evaluation process. 

UCLA Health
 

Even if he was not a match, Brian was determined to donate his organ as part of a kidney chain at UCLA. A chain is where donors who don’t match with a loved one give their kidney to someone else. In turn, it helps their loved one get a kidney from another donor in the chain.

After the donor evaluation, the family learned that the father and son were a match.

On Aug. 9, 2017, the team removed Brian’s kidney and immediately transplanted it into Dana, who lives in Los Alamitos, California. The healthy, pink kidney started working immediately.

“Dana’s transplanted kidney functioned beautifully,” said Dr. Jeffrey Veale, director of the UCLA Kidney Exchange Program. ”Brian did something really big for his dad.”

Months later, that Lakers connection with Dawn’s video was still on Brian’s mind.

He emailed the Lakers to tell them how her story affected his family. And he wrote that he wanted to nominate his dad, a lifelong Lakers fan, to be a Laker for A Day to help raise awareness of the need for organ donation.

When he heard back, it was an invitation for the father and son to both be honored as Lakers for a Day. And, they would be featured in their own social media video, like Dawn Dorland Perry, who they eventually met during the taping of the video.

“Meeting Brian and his dad was so gratifying,” Perry said. “When I went through the process, I did not count on how powerful the gesture would be.”

The two super fans got their special day on Feb. 23 at the Lakers’ home game against the Dallas Mavericks.  They were treated with a behind-the-scenes tour of Staples Center, dinner at the Chairman’s Lounge and V.I.P. seats.

They were also recognized on the court during the game giving them the spotlight to promote organ donor awareness.

“Because of Brian, I am alive,” Dana said. “He gave me the gift of life.”

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