ORLANDO | Last spring, Officer Keith Gibson was making his rounds in the Bishop Moore Catholic High School parking lot during a lacrosse game. The 30-year veteran officer for the Orlando Police Department was familiar with the routine working security at the school, where he has served for the past 25 years.
Gibson scanned the area for unusual activity, and he found it on a car magnet. It read, “IN NEED OF O+ KIDNEY.” Beneath it was a phone number.
“This is kind of crazy,” Gibson recalled thinking. “Who tries to find a kidney via a bumper sticker or car magnet?”
His interest piqued, he wrote the phone number on a pad he had in his pocket. His night shift ended a few hours later and he forgot about the strange message, until a week later when he reached into his pocket, then made the call.
Angel “Roddy” Naranjo answered the phone. Naranjo was diagnosed with kidney disease four years prior, leading to three dialysis treatments per week for the past two years. His kidneys were now only 5 percent operational, and without a transplant, he would die.
Naranjo had been on the transplant list for a year before he began his do-it-yourself campaign in desperation. In one year, he received more than 75 calls, some wishing him well. This phone call left Naranjo hopeful.
“It was incredible. It brings you back to believing there are still good people out there. I was in tears,” he recalled.
On the other end, Gibson hung up and thought, “I can’t let Roddy die.” Although Gibson’s family was conflicted over the decision due to the risks, they decided that Gibson would proceed with the lengthy evaluation process. The first phase of qualification, a battery of blood tests, indicated he was a perfect match.
“I about dropped the phone when I got the news,” Gibson recalled.
But his elation was short-lived. Testing revealed an abnormal kidney. Although not a health threat for Gibson, it made him ineligible as a donor.
“It was very upsetting, mentally, and spiritually. I’ve been healthy my whole life and donate blood every six weeks,” Gibson said. “I was ready. When they told me that, I was devastated, crushed.”
He chose to tell Naranjo the bad news himself, promising he would become Naranjo’s advocate and help him find a donor.
“If I could save his life, I gotta save it. Isn’t that why we were put on this earth?” Gibson said. “Isn’t that what Jesus taught us? The bottom line of our religion is to help your fellow man and do good unto others. It’s a no brainer.”
The news of the ineligibility shocked Naranjo, who knew he was back to square one. But he was reassured by Gibson’s promise. A local news station that initially reported the story aired a follow-up on the situation. That’s when Gibson made a plea for a kidney for Naranjo. He used Facebook, Twitter and word of mouth as a forum.
One of Gibson’s co-workers, Officer Philip Scaglione, made contact to say his wife, Kristen, was interested. Kristen had seen a program on living organ donation a year earlier and was inspired to donate one of her kidneys. The marathon runner had completed her application to donate through Florida Hospital just one week before hearing of Naranjo’s situation.
“I knew she was going to be the one, after speaking to her,” Naranjo said. “Her take was, I don’t know why more people don’t do this? We can save a life.”
They communicated via text and decided not to meet until they were certain about the outcome.
When they got the good news, Naranjo invited the Scagliones to dinner. Surgery was a week away, Dec. 12.
“I knew that my life was going to change drastically,” Naranjo said. “Now I had a second lease on life.”
The surgeries were successful, and Naranjo and Kristen left the hospital just two and three days later, respectively. Naranjo said he feels 150 percent better and stayed in Tampa for two weeks to ensure his body would not reject the new kidney. Doctors say Naranjo’s living donor kidney will extend his life 18 to 25 years—double the expectancy of a kidney received from someone deceased.
Naranjo, now 56, is ready for a long life ahead and looks forward to getting back to a normal life and, hopefully, playing soccer. He also committed to running at least a half marathon with Kristen once they both fully recover. He has already begun promoting organ donation and education with the National Kidney Foundation.
“This (kidney) was the greatest gift ever,” said Naranjo, a cradle Catholic who added the experience will bring him back to Sunday Mass.
Kristen was cleared to return to running just two weeks after surgery. She said she has no regrets.
“I don’t see myself as doing anything extraordinary,” she said. “My goal was to give him something that was going to save his life and I just don’t see myself as doing anything that everybody else should be doing that is capable and healthy. There was a need and I filled that need.”
Gibson continues to pray for Naranjo’s full recovery and is convinced he was meant to notice that bumper sticker on that balmy spring night in 2018.
“What are the chances that I’m working there that night and that vehicle is there with that bumper sticker?” he said. “I believe God put me in that parking lot to see that bumper sticker and no one can convince me he didn’t.”