Ryan Stanton, rstanton@ExplorerNews.com
Nov. 2, 2005 - While Barbara McCutchan was learning about MatchingDonors.com on the evening news this year, little did she know that her soon-to-be kidney donor was 10 miles away in Tucson watching the same broadcast.
Almost simultaneously, McCutchan and Bob Webb, a complete stranger, posted profiles on the new and controversial Web site, which arranges live organ donations to those in need. Within days, the two talked and decided to meet at a local restaurant in Marana.
"It was a very good meeting and I knew immediately that he was a wonderful person," said McCutchan, 66, a retired Continental Ranch resident. "He wasn't out for money in any way, shape or form. He was just an unselfish and kind individual."
Webb, a 34-year-old bank teller, took time off from work to go through psychological evaluations and other testing at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. Testing showed that Webb was a perfect match - almost a blood relative - and a surgery date was set for Sept. 14.
The question Webb said he constantly faced was: "This is a total stranger, why would you want to do that?" His answer: "Regardless of whether it's a stranger, it's still someone's loved one."
"It just feels right that Barbara and I were meant to meet each other somewhere in our lifetime," Webb said. "We still think there's a very divine intervention in this situation. We believe very strongly that God brought us together for a specific reason."
McCutchan's surgery was a success. She arrived home Oct. 18 where she says she's slowly getting back to her regular way of life with a healthy kidney, all thanks to Webb and MatchingDonors.com.
"It's working beautifully," she said. "It's just so wonderful to be able to have all those things that you want now. It's the foods I can eat. I can go out to a restaurant without going through the menu and saying, 'I can't have that, I can't have that and I can't have that.'"
Three years ago, McCutchan went in for what she thought would be a routine blood test, but it was the phone call she later received from her doctor that told her otherwise: Her kidneys were showing signs of failure and she needed to see a kidney doctor immediately.
"I kind of laughed at him," she admitted.
But the results of her tests were no laughing matter. Only 17 percent of her kidneys were working. The fear set in that her body could no longer clean blood and she wondered whether she'd be able to eat the foods she liked anymore.
McCutchan moved to Marana about two years ago with her husband, Kermit, and went to see a kidney doctor in Tucson, where she learned her kidneys had gotten worse. Soon after, dialysis three times a week became a new way of life. By now, she had retired from her job as a travel agent and wondered whether she'd ever travel again.
"Your whole life just revolves around dialysis - what you can't eat and what you can't have," she said. "And the needle they use for dialysis is about as big around as my finger now, and when they poke it in your arm, you have to have novocaine and it's just horrible."
After spending the better part of a year in the hospital, McCutchan decided there had to be a better alternative. She was placed on a donor waiting list but was told the wait for a cadaver kidney would be three to four years.
"Well, I knew I didn't have three or four years," she said. "There's no way. Not with my veins and the condition I was in."
Unable to find a suitable donor, and not content on waiting around, McCutchan decided to get proactive and find a donor by any means necessary. She turned to MatchingDonors.com, which launched last year, attracting a mixture opinions from the medical world.
The Web site allows patient members to provide a personal biography and pictures online. The hope is that the personal story generates enough interest so potential donors will take notice and offer up a vital organ to a complete stranger.
Kermit said going through Matching
Donors.com was one of the best things his wife could have done because it opened the world to her. It was only irony that after searching the world over, Webb turned up just 10 miles away.
"It was quite a success story," Kermit said. "I have no doubt Bob Webb did save Barbara's life. In her case, her veins are small and deep and they have a tendency to collapse and cave in. So I think, absolutely, eventually they wouldn't have been able to gain access … so the end result would have been death."
McCutchan said she still takes a large number of anti-viral pills each day and she'll likely have to take anti-rejection drugs the rest of her life. In six months, she plans to travel again for the first time in years and go on a cruise.
"To see how her spirits basically soared sky high, that was the amazing thing to be able to see," Webb said. "She's glad to get her wings back."
Webb said he has to be careful about what kinds of activities he engages in but doesn't have to watch the foods he eats. He was back to work within two weeks after surgery.
The Mayo Clinic allowed the Fox News Channel to film the surgery and recovery process for an upcoming documentary, McCutchan said.
A spokeswoman for the Mayo Clinic said the hospital does have concerns with the concept of MatchingDonors.com and does not fully endorse the site. However, the clinic scrutinizes each case on an individual basis and determined that Webb's willingness to donate his kidney was an unselfish act, so the clinic was happy to do the surgery.
Part of the controversy behind Matching
Donors.com is that it charges a fee for patients who post a profile. However, that fee is waived if a person can't afford it, McCutchan said, adding that she wasn't charged a penny, but now plans to donate to the organization.
Also adding to controversy is that MatchingDonors allows people like McCutchan, who are on the waiting list for a cadaver kidney, to "jump ahead" of others and get a kidney from a live donor. McCutchan doesn't think the Web site is any different from someone asking a relative for a kidney, however.
"I think anybody who's got a brain in their head - and they know the cadaver list is three or four years long - would go out and try to find a donor on their own," she said.
"MatchingDonors is a wonderful organization trying to help people. There should be more people who go in and look at it and check it out, and more doctors should look at it."
McCutchan said there were some potential donors from the site who called and wanted money for a kidney, which is illegal, but she had enough sense to hang up on them.
"I feel very, very fortunate and blessed to have this opportunity and without Bob Webb I wouldn't have it," McCutchan said. "He's the true hero in this story."
McCutchan and Webb, no longer split-screen strangers, have started going to church together and say their families are planning to celebrate Thanksgiving later this month.
"He was a total stranger when I met him, but he's no longer a total stranger," McCutchan said. "He's become part of the family."
"There has to be a special place for someone like that," added Kermit. "There's a small percentage that would do what he did. He's quite a guy."
Following the phrase "Let go, and let God," Webb said he never had any doubts about donating his kidney. After his mother had a successful open heart surgery last year, Webb said he made a vow that he would try to help someone else's loved one.
"When I stand before my maker at the end of my life, I want to be able to tell him that I've run a good race and I fought the good fight and I won," he said.
McCutchan also said it was faith that kept her from having doubts.
"It was as if it was just meant to be. Everything just fell into place," she said. "For some reason, I wasn't scared at all. I was really thrilled with my last dialysis and it was wonderful to know that I didn't have to go through that again."
McCutchan's surgery was the 14th transplant done in the past 11 months between patients and donors who have met through MatchingDonors.com. The site was launched in January 2004 as an Internet service based in Massachusetts.
Immediately after its first surgery in October 2004, MatchingDonors.com had more than 2 million visitors on a weekly basis. The site now has more than 100 patients with active profiles and more than 2,300 potential donors.
According to MatchingDonors.com, most patient members on the site for at least 30 days have been offered an organ by a potential donor and at least 21 members have upcoming surgery dates. New patients and potential donors sign up daily.
Last month, more than 89,000 patients were waiting for an organ transplant in the United States. Meanwhile, there were only 14,008 organ transplants performed in the United States from January to June, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Each day, 17 people die while waiting for a transplant of a vital organ.