In order for there to be a gift of life, there must be a giver.
Living donors are more common for some types of transplant procedures, especially kidney transplantation, but patients needing a heart, lung or pancreas rely nearly solely on deceased donation. For these transplants, the life-giving outcome comes after a high cost — the life of another.
In Jeff Granger’s case, that life belonged to Bryan Herrington. When Bryan, 35, died in 2004, Jeff received his pancreas and a kidney in a combined transplant.
Thank you notes are customary for even the smallest of trinkets, and organs are far from the exception. Jeff and his wife, Pam, sent Bryan’s widow, Terri Herrington, and two children a thank you letter within a month of the procedure, along with the occasional holiday card. They kept in touch anonymously for the first year, as required by LifeQuest Organ Recovery Services.
“Just hearing from them, and how much their life had changed, was a healing process for me and my boys in and of itself,” Terri Herrington said.
One year after the transplant, she replied for the first time and included her phone number.
“I remember sitting down and thinking, ‘Heck, I’ll give her a call,’ ” Jeff said. “I didn’t know a thing about her.”
The conversation lasted 45 minutes.
And they found ways to keep talking. That same year, Terri invited Jeff and Pam to her sister-in-law’s football party at their Pensacola home. Once again, Jeff found himself saying “What the heck?” and he decided to make the trip from Wacissa, a tiny town 25 miles east of Tallahassee. Expecting a low-key event, the Grangers pulled into the driveway and couldn’t find a parking space.
All of Bryan Herrington’s family was there. One by one, Jeff shook hands with each of them. By the end of the night, he was playing football with Bryan’s sons, Drake and Payton.
The families kept in touch for the next 14 years, alternating between phone calls, visits and social media. If Terri and her boys were going to Orlando, she’d make sure to go through Wacissa and stay for lunch, or the night.
One afternoon, Jeff was sitting in the house when Terri and Bryan’s youngest son, Payton, came up and put his hand on Jeff’s stomach.
“My dad’s in there,” he said.
“Sure is,” Jeff said. “And I’ll try to keep him alive as long as I can.”
Although their relationship was stronger than that of most deceased non-related donations, it was about to grow even closer.
In January 2019, the donated kidney from Bryan began failing. Jeff did the first thing he could think of: He called Terri.
“I’m losing Bryan’s kidney,” he told her. “I’m so sorry.”
“Well, I’ve got one,” Terri said.
Jeff shrugged it off, assuming she was joking. They didn’t address the subject again, until Jeff took to social media in search of a kidney donor. The post did well. Many people shared it and left comments — including Terri.
“I’ll email you a packet if you’re really interested,” Jeff commented.
“I’m not ‘really interested,’ ’’ Terri told him. “You’re getting mine.”
One phone call and a couple of UF Health Shands brochures later, Jeff knew she was serious. And, more importantly, she was a match.