A teacher has given the most precious gift of all – to a complete stranger.
Damian Delaney, 57, donated more than half of his liver to 29-year-old Breana Shaw – who he had never met before - following a gruelling five-hour operation at the Keck Hospital of USC in Los Angeles.
The young woman had been battling end-stage liver disease for three years - and would have died without a suitable donor.
Damian, a high school teacher who was born in Blackpool and now lives in South Gate, California, said: “Throughout the world, people die every day waiting for organ transplants. It’s one of those desperate situations were you can’t control your own destiny. You rely on somebody to step forward to help.
“If I was in that situation I would be hoping someone would step up and help, and I had to opportunity to do that.
“I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
Damian signed up as a living donor last year in the hope of helping a close friend who was in need of a new liver.
However, when his friend recovered without needing a transplant, he decided to remain on the register to give somebody else a second chance at life.
He was told in September that a recipient had been found, and two alcohol-free months later, he had around 70 per cent of his liver removed and donated to Breana.
The pair met for the first time at the hospital last month.
Damian said: “It was very emotional. I didn’t really know what I was going to say to her.
“It was just good to see her healthy, to see her smiling.
“During my recovery there was always the thought that I hoped the person who received my liver was doing well.
“Being able to see her helped me with my recovery because it made it all worth it.
“It was at first a bit nervewracking to see her, but we established an immediate rapport and we’re kind of like family now, and I’m sure that we are going to have that bond for the rest of our lives.”
At the union, which was caught on camera by the hospital, Breana said tearfully: “I feel like you’ve given me a second chance.
“I feel like thank you is not enough, but I am eternally grateful. I promise not to waste this chance.”
She added: “I’m excited to just get back out into the world. I want to try new things. I want to say ‘yes’ to everything.”
Damian, who used to live on Rossett Avenue, Mereside, was a priest before he became a high school teacher.
He said: “I have always been a religious person and I wanted to help and serve others, and when this opportunity came up I felt I had the chance to help someone else.
“I’m not married and I’m not a father, and that was probably the reason why I was able to do this.”
A keen runner, he returns to Blackpool this weekend to take part in tomorrow’s marathon along the Promenade - and share his story and support for organ donation with the people of his home town.
He said: “Every day there are people that die waiting for organ donations, so there’s a real need for people to step forward if they can and donate a liver, a kidney, part of a lung, bone marrow.
“It’s a lengthy recovery. It’s a five-hour surgery and they recommend two months off work. You can’t do any lifting for three months.
“The first week you’re in hospital and when you’re released you’re slowly able to do other things.
“They had me on strong painkillers for the first week.
“I used to be a social, casual drinker, I’d have a beer or a glass of wine wih a meal, but once I found out that I was going to donate I stopped drinking alcohol and it will be a few weeks before I can drink it again. To be honest, I don’t even miss it.
“My incision is still tender even though I can run.”
He added: “I’m on my way to recovering and (the marathon) is a challenge for me. I have been running for the past few weeks. Before surgery I was training to do 100 miles so I feel pretty confident I’ll be OK, but I’m going to take it easy and maybe walk a bit now and then. It’s kind of a personal challenge for me.”
In America, there are almost 114,000 people on the organ transplant waiting list.
On average, 20 people die every day waiting for a new organ.
Damian said: “When you do a loving act, the act itself is its own reward. Anything worthwhile in life is difficult. It’s not an easy thing to step forward and donate, but the level of satisfaction you get is life-changing.”
“If anybody who is healthy has the opportunity to do something, it all starts with giving your name and number. That’s how I started. Give the gift of life.”
Find out more about organ donation and sign up to become a donor online at www.organdonation.nhs.uk.