Brian Flynn donated his kidney to a friend's brother in 2019. The experience was so gratifying, that just a year later, he donated a portion of his liver to a four year old boy that he'd never met

By Gillian Telling
February 19, 2021 10:03 AM
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Brian Flynn recalls the first time he considered becoming a living organ donor: about five years ago, when he stumbled across a Facebook post from a friend who needed a kidney. "I was on a business trip, and I'd maybe had a few margaritas with a colleague," he says with a laugh. "But I thought, 'Why don't I see if I'm a match?' " He was — but the friend ended up getting a kidney from her husband. Then a year ago, when Flynn was turning 50, the idea popped back into his head. "I told my wife, 'I'm feeling like I need to do more. I'm healthy —maybe I really should give someone a kidney!' " 

Flynn has since done just that — along with donating a portion of his liver, saving the lives of two strangers 15 months apart. "Only about 50 people in the United States have been dual altruistic donors," says Dr. Benjamin Samstein, who performed Flynn's 2020 liver surgery. "The vast majority of donors are directed donors, so this is pretty uncommon. He's a very generous person."

For more on Brian Flynn, listen below to the episode of PEOPLE Every Day.

It was a Facebook post from his daughter's basketball coach that led Flynn to the recipient of his kidney. Greg Dentice, 25, the basketball coach's brother, had been living with kidney failure for more than a decade, and his family and friends were desperately looking for a potential match. Nearly 40 people who saw the post got tested to see if they could help, including Flynn, who didn't even know Dentice at the time. He ended up being a perfect fit. The successful surgery happened in July, 2019.

"Brian saved my life," says Dentice, a cable technician, 25, who got married last October. "The week of the transplant, I had about 10 percent kidney function and was about to start dialysis. But it also changed my outlook on the world, just to know there are good people out there who would do this for someone." 

Flynn says during the COVID pandemic, he started wondering if there was more he could do to help others. That was when Dentice, now his good friend, texted him about liver donations. "Are you going to do that next?" he teased. Flynn was immediately drawn to the idea.

Credit: Billy Delfs

"Being a little hypercompetitive, I decided to challenge myself and see what I could do," Flynn says with a laugh.

To read more about Brian Flynn and his living organ donation experience, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on stands now.  

Not far away, in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, Melissa and Richard Ramirez were struggling with the news that their goofy, high-spirited son Richie, now 4, had been diagnosed with Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic condition that was causing his liver to fail. "He was our miracle baby," says Melissa, 39, of Richie, who was born after their third and final round of IVF. They were told a liver transplant would be Richie's best hope at a long, healthy life.

Not soon after, they got a call saying there had been a perfect match — Brian Flynn, who was an anonymous or "altruistic" donor. Brian got the same call — he had matched with an anonymous four year old boy. Surgery was scheduled for ten days later.

It was a success, and the day after, social workers told the Ramirez's that their donor was open to correspondence. Melissa wrote Brian a letter from Richie's bedside, thanking him.

Flynn sobbed when he got it. "I was just overwhelmed," he says. "Overwhelmed with gratitude that it happened and that Richie was okay. And hearing his story and how difficult it was living with this disease, and what his parents had been going through, and how appreciative they were. It really was just a great moment in life." 

Now the families are all hoping that sharing their story will inspire others to look into becoming a living donor, or even donating blood, plasma, or bone marrow, all of which are facing a shortage during the current pandemic. Flynn, for one, is a huge advocate for donating.

"The idea of saving a life is tremendous, but it's also tremendous how it can make you feel," he says. "And how it can make your life better."

If you're interested in being a living donor, visit organdonor.gov.