By Danyelle Khmara The Arizona Daily Star
PIMA COUNTY, Ariz. — A former Pima County Sheriff’s Department sergeant is feeling thankful this holiday season after another department employee gave him a big gift — a new kidney.
A month before Thanksgiving, 59-year-old Chad Avery lay in a hospital bed next to his longtime friend and co-worker Jim Anderson, 60, at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.
“It’s not too late, buddy, if you changed your mind,” Anderson recalls telling his friend. Avery responded that he wasn’t turning back.
“In my book, a ‘hero’ is a guy named Chad Avery,” Anderson said. “I’ve got a lot to give thanks for.”
When the two men met 20 years ago, they worked overlapping shifts doing prisoner intake at the Pima County jail. They were both officers until Anderson was promoted to sergeant and Avery moved into the forensics department, later becoming a public safety support specialist.
The two shared playful banter over similar interests. They talked politics, muscle cars, music, movies and weapons.
Anderson has lived with Type 1 diabetes since he was 27 and developed other health problems as he got older. He eventually retired in 2010, after 20 years on the force, due to a disease called Charcot foot, which cost him his right leg below the knee and half his left foot. Even after Anderson retired, he and Avery kept in touch.
Last year, Anderson says his mind started getting foggy. He started falling asleep at random times, like while on the phone. In January, he was diagnosed with kidney failure and began nightly dialysis sessions to survive.
His quality of life went downhill. Formerly an outdoor enthusiast, he could no longer go to his favorite outdoor store, Cabela’s. He didn’t even have the energy to go grocery shopping.
His sister offered to donate a kidney, but at 73, doctors said she was too old.
Anderson’s wife was next in line. He laughs, remembering the doctor’s reaction when he saw 6-foot-3 Anderson walk in the door for the first time. The doctor told him there was no way his wife’s kidney would be large enough.
Then a friend asked about Anderson’s health in a Facebook post, and Anderson responded that he needed a new kidney. Avery saw the exchange. He says he knew Anderson was having health problems, but didn’t know it had become so dire.
“Being a friend of mine for so many years, and God had blessed me with two kidneys, there wasn’t really a decision in it,” Avery said.
Since the transplant on Oct. 24, Anderson has felt better than he has in the last couple of years. He says his mind is clear. He’s walking around his neighborhood, getting his strength back. He’s spending Thanksgiving with his wife’s huge family near Phoenix. And he’s looking forward to going out driving with his wife again in their four-wheel truck .
Avery took a couple weeks off work to heal from the surgery, but says he’s almost fully recovered. And he’s not worried about whether he’ll ever need that second kidney. He says his faith gives him the peace of mind to know whatever happens, he’s where he’s supposed to be.
Avery’s donation is the fourth time a Sheriff’s Department employee has donated a kidney to a colleague or family member.
“Every day, we’re proud of the team we have in Pima County, not only for their outstanding law enforcement work, but also for their incredible character and generosity,” Sheriff Mark Napier said.
Anderson said the entire department treats one another like family, but his gratitude to Avery goes beyond that.
“Our bond is now even greater than the law enforcement brotherhood,” he said. “Thanksgiving will have a new meaning in our house from now on.”