David McCartney is now on a mission to run an ultramarathon in every U.S. state while raising awareness for live organ donation on behalf of Team Mason

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David McCartney
David McCartney
| Credit: Courtesy David McCartney

Things were not going well for David McCartney on the evening of Jan. 9, 2006.

The Darlington, Indiana father of two was running late to a meeting — and had been stopped for a speeding ticket. But, as fate would have it, the delay put him right where he needed to be when Elizabeth Testerman's car veered off the road in front of him, flipped into a ditch and burst into flames.

Thinking fast, McCartney called 911 and, with help from two other bystanders, kicked in Testerman's windshield and pulled her from the car.

"I got to save a life," says McCartney, 37. "So it wound up being a pretty good day."

That life-changing episode led to a yearslong friendship with Testerman, who encouraged him to continue doing good things for other people before her death in 2011. In 2019, her message inspired McCartney — a longtime distance runner — to donate his kidney to a stranger.

Since then, McCartney's goal has been to run 50-plus-mile ultramarathons in every U.S. state to increase awareness about becoming a living donor, while also raising money for Team Mason, a local organization that brings awareness to kidney disease and helps send kids to Kidney Camp.

David McCartney
David McCartney with his 18-year-old son, Elijah
| Credit: Courtesy David McCartney

Located at Camp Tecumseh in Brookston, Kidney Camp is a free, five-day, overnight summer camp for kids ages 8 to 18 who live in Indiana and have kidney disease or have received a transplant, according to their website. The camp gives children a traditional summer camp experience while also providing the unique medical care they need.

"This changed the whole trajectory of my life," explains McCartney, a father of two who works in the streets department for the city of Carmel. "Without divine intervention, none of this would be possible."

"People need to know that it's not a death sentence to donate a kidney," he adds. "My family members kept saying, 'What if we need one or your son needs one?' And I just said, 'Well, what if he doesn't? What if he's 75 years old, I'm finally dead and he doesn't need one?' Then that was a waste for a person who could have used it."

For more on David McCartney's cross-country ultramarathon mission, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

Years before live organ donation was on his radar, McCartney started running with his then 9-year-old son Elijah as a bonding activity.

"We went to the track one day and just started running and training for my first 5K," recalls Elijah, now 18. "And we just kept it going after that."

"I consider him to be my best friend," McCartney adds of his son. "What we do together is what brings us closer."

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Their bond only strengthened when McCartney donated his kidney at Indiana University Health and spent four months recovering.

Because he was limited in his physical activity during that time, McCartney says Elijah stepped up and helped maintain their family's farm, which took him 10 years to build.

"I run a pretty tight ship on the way I want stuff done [on the farm] and having to sit backseat and let Elijah and my wife do stuff was pretty hard," McCartney explains. "But that's also when you know you have a good team because we've been working together for this long and they got a rough idea of how I like stuff done."

McCartney also had to accept the fact that he never got to meet the person who received his kidney because they chose to remain anonymous.

"I would have liked to shake their hand," he explains. "But you can't know what people are going through."

Following his recovery period, McCartney and Elijah finally got back to running — but this time, with a new purpose.

"We're trying to get people involved in all 50 states," says McCartney. "We've got to take this platform as far as we can."

In recent years, the pair have completed nearly 100 races across 16 states on behalf of Team Mason and helped send dozens of kids to Kidney Camp.

"That's the number one driving force when I'm tired or I want to quit," says McCartney. "If I'm struggling on a hill, what am I going to do? I'm going to look down at my [Team Mason] shirt and say that's why I'm here. So I've got to keep on going."

"You've got to try to make a difference," adds Elijah, who, with his dad, hopes to run another 10 races this year — including the Eastern States 100 in Pennsylvania in August and the No Business 100 in Tennessee in October.

"It's a big undertaking," says McCartney. "But if the sun is shining, we're running."

Those interested in donating directly to Indiana's Kidney Camp can do so here. For more information on becoming a living organ donor, visit donatelife.net.