Five-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin and her family were looking for a miracle. Her father, Dick Franklin, was in end-stage kidney failure. Like approximately 90,000 other people waiting for a kidney on the national transplant waiting list, Dick and his family knew it could take years to find a donor match, and there were no guarantees.
Dick has an inherited genetic disorder that runs in the Franklin family. "Unfortunately, I got it from my dad," Dick recently told Denver’s 9NEWS. "Fortunately, it was a very late form, so I had a very healthy life up to a few years ago and the kidney function really started to go through the floor."
As Dick and his wife, DA, prepared to begin the dialysis process, she posted on social media about his need for a donor, which she described as a “Hail Mary.” Although dozens of people reached out, none was a match. Missy offered to be her dad’s donor, but her parents didn’t want her to make such a sacrifice with a young, growing family.
Then, just as they began to lose hope, doctors at Centura Transplant at Porter Adventist Hospital told the family they’d found a match. "We were blown away, just absolutely blown away," DA told the news station.
"It was a very surreal moment when we found out not only did we have a match, but she was an Olympic gold medalist in swimming. It was just a full circle moment," said Missy.
DA’s Facebook post was seen by Crissy Perham, a two-time gold medalist at the 1992 Olympics. Initially, she was one of two people who met the criteria to be a donor for Dick. Final tests, though, showed she was the only match.
After initially planning to stay anonymous, Crissy decided to identify herself to the Franklins since they’re all in the swimming family and have an opportunity to spread hope.
"We have a platform now. This is really special that we have found each other because of the Olympics and swimming – here we are sharing an organ, I don't know, we should talk about this."
In August, Centura Transplant surgeons performed the procedure, and both Dick and Crissy were discharged from the hospital and on the road to recovery within a few days.
Missy and her family had glowing reviews for the care team at Centura Transplant.
"As a daughter that just made me feel so good knowing that not only they had the most competent care team in the country but a care team that was so kind and that they enjoyed spending time with," Missy says.
"It’s just so special to see the level of care and how every person on his and Crissy’s team was going above and beyond, not just to make this successful, but to make it a positive experience and to make them as comfortable as possible."
Now, Crissy and the Franklins all want to help spread the word about living organ donation, which often leads to better outcomes for a recipient than a kidney from a cadaver.
"We want to bring awareness of the importance of organ donation because there are Crissy Perhams in the world – there are amazing literal fallen angels who are here to save us, and Crissy is ours," Missy told 9NEWS.
"I'm proud of what I did and I'm a really, really, really healthy person and taking one kidney away from me, doesn't drastically impact my life, yet it's going to drastically impact the whole Franklin family."
There are more than 1,500 people currently on organ donor lists in Colorado alone. To learn more about living kidney donation, including frequently-asked questions, and to request more information, visit Centura Transplant online.