Of the 50 to 60 kidneys donated in the region each year, half are from living donors and many of those are from people undergoing the surgery to help a friend or family member.

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Thomas Silver never waffled, never had a second thought — even as surgeons prepared to slice him open and remove one of his kidneys to give to a complete stranger.

People like Silver, a 55-year-old Wal-Mart shelf stocker, are called altruistic donors in the world of organ transplants. To the sick and suffering, Silver is simply a hero.

Across the country, about 18 people die each day awaiting a kidney.

So Rick Anhorn is one of the lucky ones. “Tom gave me an awesome gift,” Anhorn said.

Meeting for the first time last week at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, the two men gave each other a big hug and began sharing stories that illustrated how their lives intertwined.

Anhorn worked as a banker, didn’t take good care of his body and fell ill with Type 2 diabetes.

He had been on dialysis for years as his kidney functions failed.

“Three days a week, three to four hours each time,” he said of his routine. “Our lives revolved around my dialysis.”

For the past five years his life was static. He didn’t get much exercise. He worried that his physical and cognitive abilities had slumped.

He kept reading Scripture and believing something positive would happen. “I just kept plowing forward,” he said.

Both Anhorn and Silver are Mormons — and that’s just one similarity. Both stand taller than 6 feet. They are 55. Both have remarried and have children.

Silver’s inspiration to donate a kidney came from his wife, Robin.

She gave a kidney five years ago to family friend Blaine Bauer, a widely beloved math teacher in Newport, Pend Oreille County, where the Silvers also live. Her gift helped Bauer lead a better life until he died this month from throat cancer.

So Silver signed up to give his kidney to his wife’s cousin. That didn’t work out, so he told physicians that he would be willing to give to a stranger.

Such donations are rare. Of the 50 to 60 kidneys donated in the region each year, half are from living donors and many of those are from people undergoing the surgery to help a friend or family member.

At the same time, Anhorn touched the top of the local transplant waiting list of 245 people.

He can expect Silver’s kidney to last 10 to 15 years.

Eight months after surgery, Anhorn said, he feels better than he has in many years.

While Anhorn was sewn shut with his new kidney intact and sent home within 46 hours, Silver came down with pneumonia and his hospital stay was stretched. But he says it was all worth it.

“This is something I felt I had to do,” he said. “I encourage others to do the same.”