116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — For months, a Utah man teared up every time he talked about a Marion woman he had never met, anticipating what he would say when he finally saw her.
But on Thursday, as Michael Braginton met the woman who saved his life with a kidney donation, words escaped him.
“What do you say?” Braginton asked as his voice broke and his eyes welled up after meeting Cheryl Moore, his kidney donor. “I’ve been thinking about it for six months, what I would say to this person. You can’t say ‘thank you’ enough.”
After nearly five years on dialysis while waiting on the organ transplant list, Braginton received a transplant about four months ago from Moore, a friend of his Iowa family, thanks to a campaign launched by his family in 2019.
After an exhaustive search for a compatible kidney among dozens of relatives, the Utah man was resigned to living a life centered on dialysis three times per week. His father died of kidney disease; and none of his children could donate due to kidney problems his family wasn’t previously aware of.
For the physical therapist — an otherwise healthy man before — his kidneys started to fail because of high blood pressure.
“We all started getting really concerned about two years ago,” said Jordan Moenck, his niece. “I remember when we saw him in 2019, he was a shell of who he used to be.”
That’s when the family rallied through social media campaigns, window stickers and ads on Facebook to find a donor — something Moore casually noticed on her phone while scrolling through Facebook in February 2020.
Though she always was willing to be an organ donor, it wasn’t something she had thought about in depth before.
“Oh, I’m his blood type,” Moore remembered thinking. “Did I think of cutting my kidney out before that moment? No.”
But after confirming the match through extensive testing for blood type, antibodies, her own kidney function, tests to ensure the kidney wouldn’t be rejected and tests to ensure she could live with one kidney, she committed herself to going through with it.
“I can’t expect someone to help me if I won’t be willing to help,” said Moore, director of early childhood education with Xavier Catholic Schools. “He’s got grand kids. If (my kids) needed something, I would hope someone would help them.”
But the gravity of her selflessness hasn’t quite hit her yet.
“I can say I saved his life with words, but I don’t think I get the gravity still, because it was such an easy thing for me. I wasn’t the one suffering,” Moore said. “So easy for me, yet completely life changing for him.”
Before, Braginton couldn’t walk to his kitchen without being out of breath. Now, more than regaining the shell of who he used to be, he has a new lease on life.
But what’s more is that Moore didn’t just give him the ability to survive, she gave him the ability to live — a satisfaction that made a few weeks of recovery after surgery a pittance to pay.
“I didn’t know people like this existed, and I worked in health care for 30 years,” Braginton said. “She doesn’t know me from a man on the moon.”
Through the ordeal, the man who seldom had to see a doctor throughout his life learned something else, too.
“Take care of yourself. I think I spent most of my life taking care of other people, not myself,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that’s why this happened. Take care and put yourself in the equation.”
The family hopes their example will show others just how important living organ donation is.
“If we hadn’t found Cheryl, we could’ve lost one of the most important men in our family,” Moenck said of her favorite uncle. “It’s not just important to be a donor after you’ve passed. If you can, share a spare.”
The extended family, which did not talk often in between family reunions, now has weekly conversations, she said.
“We are so immersed in each other’s lives because we understand time goes fast,” said Moenck.
As of June 1, there are over 107,000 people waiting for lifesaving organ transplants, including 600 in Iowa, according to the Iowa Donor Network. A single organ donor can save up to eight lives and a single tissue donor can heal 50 to 300 people. Iowans can register to be a donor at IowaDonorNetwork.org.
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