Vietnam veterans who served together underwent a kidney transplant after reuniting for the first time in nearly 50 years

By Julie Mazziotta
September 20, 2018 12:44 PM

Until recently, Jim McGee and Doug Kaufman hadn’t seen each other since they served together in the Vietnam War nearly 50 years ago.

When they reunited for a fellow serviceman’s funeral three months ago, Kaufman learned that McGee needed a kidney — and offered up one of his.

“We have not seen each other face to face until we met in Monterey [Calif.] about three months ago,” McGee, 69, told FOX5 in Washington, D.C. “Doug, at that point, volunteered a kidney, and to me, it’s the gift of life.”

“Our blood and tissue type match is good,” Kaufman, 70, added. “And to me, it just is living proof that we’re all part of one human family. The chances of our match — I don’t know what the odds were, but we beat them.”

McGee, who is now a retired foreign service officer and the former U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe and Madagascar, was undergoing dialysis three times a week near his home in Sarasota, Florida, while sitting on the lengthy waitlist for a kidney donation.

McGee said that Kaufman’s donation would give him his life back.

“One thing about dialysis — it pretty much locks you into your home base,” he said. “With this gift I’m going to be back on the road again.”

Kaufman, now a natural history researcher and author living in Eugene, Oregon, and McGee flew to D.C. for the transplant surgery at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital on Tuesday. Their surgeon said that Kaufman has the kidneys of a 35-year-old person.

“I never visualized myself in this position. It never would have occurred to me to be a kidney donor,” Kaufman said. “It was just being in the right place in the right time.”

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With the successful surgery behind him, McGee hopes others will consider donation.

“One of the things I’m most passionate about right now is making certain that everyone understands that there’s a national crisis,” he said. “One hundred thousand people are waiting for kidney transplants, another 15,000 are waiting for liver transplants, and it’s people like Doug who step forward and make the difference.”

And McGee knows that he’s lucky.

“When I think of all the ways it might not have worked out…” Kaufman mused.

“It was meant to be,” McGee told him.