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Midway man donates kidney to former missionary companion

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SALT LAKE CITY — Eight years ago, Maka Aulava was diagnosed with diabetes, a disease that can potentially cause many other health issues, including kidney failure.

"I got pretty sick. I was throwing up every day and kind of running out of energy," said Aulava, 42. The Orem man went to the doctor and received a tough diagnosis in January 2016.

"They called me the next day and said, 'It's urgent you come see us,'" Aulava remembered. "(They said,) 'Your kidneys are not functioning correctly."

Aulava was diagnosed with kidney failure and started dialysis in April 2016. He faced a lengthy wait on the transplant list. Being sick gave him a lot of time to think, he said.

"Initially just worry for my kids and my wife," Aulava said.

He thought about the things he wished he could do, he said.

"During the winter when I wasn't able to do things physically, and I'd see my wife shoveling the snow," Aulava said through tears.

Years of sickness led Aulava to University Hospital. A kidney transplant could save this husband and father's life.

"What will it mean for them, and will I be there for them?" Aulava recalled asking himself following his kidney failure diagnosis. He endured a year and a half on dialysis.

"Twelve hours (of dialysis) a week, pretty much," Aulava said. "Monday, Wednesday, Friday was my schedule."

No one in his family was a match, but Branden Seare, 41, of Midway, was.

"I don't like to be on the same camera with this guy because he's so good looking," Aulava said with a laugh, motioning to Seare sitting beside his hospital bed Tuesday.

Aulava first met Seare in 1995 when they were serving as LDS Church missionaries in New Jersey. They hit it off immediately.

"We taught a lot the same," Seare said. "We had a lot of the same philosophies on the mission. It was just really easy, and we were buddies."

The two said they stayed in touch throughout the years — and it's a good thing they did.

"We talk weekly as it was anyway, just to check up and see how we're doing," Aulava said. "I got the news that I was sick, called him up and said, 'I've got kidney failure. I'm sick. At some point, I'll probably need a transplant. We haven't figured everything out.'"

Seare didn't hesitate to help.

"I was just like, he's my brother and, 'I'm here for you if you need something from me, a kidney or whatever. It's yours,'" he said.

Last week, Aulava needed Seare for that specific reason. One week ago, surgeons successfully transplanted Seare's kidney into the man he now calls his brother.

"I just knew he was going to be a close friend the rest of my life," Seare said.

"I felt the exact same way," Aulava replied.

It turns out the two men who were such a good match on their Mormon missions were a perfect match for something else.

Aulava is still recovering in the hospital. Seare said he's still in pain, but that the worst part of the surgery was the anesthesia.

"It really blows my mind, the medical miracles that they come up with these days and removing an organ from me, and that same day, that organ is functioning again inside Maka," Seare said. "And in a few days, I'm feeling fine."

Both men wanted to share their story because they hope to raise awareness about the need for kidney donation. To learn more about organ donation, visit yesutah.org.

"I do know for a fact that I would not be as happy and blessed as I am and have as much appreciation as I do right now for family, life and really good friends," Aulava said.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc