DURHAM, NC (WECT) - A group of strangers met at Duke's medical campus Friday, forever connected by what's inside them.
Julie was nervous as she arrived at Duke, knowing someone she was about to meet had her kidney inside of them – but she didn't know who.
"I did really want to know that this person is doing well. That is, I think, going to be the gift back to me," said Julie, who asked not to share her last name.
Julie didn't know anyone who needed a transplant and had no reason to be a donor. Her decision to give away a kidney was "sort of out of the blue."
"I think it caught my family off guard too. They probably thought I was a little crazy," said Julie, who lives in Raleigh.
Julie's decision to donate created a domino effect and led to two other people donating kidneys to strangers.
To celebrate, Duke Health arranged a meeting between Julie, the two other kidney donors and the three recipients they helped. The strangers lined up and each held a box revealing the person they are forever linked with.
Correctional officer Frankie Locklear received Julie's kidney. Locklear, of Turkey, North Carolina, needed it due to an autoimmune disease and was able to get a kidney before ever needing dialysis.
"It's so fantastic. I mean, the way people are. There needs to be more people like these. It's just amazing," Locklear said.
Locklear's sister in Lumberton, Tammy, was willing to donate a kidney to him, but she wasn't a match. Instead, she donated to Steven Mullins who had a congenital kidney condition and had been waiting a decade for a transplant.
"I'm just really thankful," said Mullins, who is from Virginia.
Mullins' mother, Kathy, wanted to donate a kidney to her son, but she wasn't a match. So she donated to Army veteran Russell Bridgers, who survived on dialysis for six years as he waited for a donor.
"I didn't know who I was helping and it didn't really matter," Kathy Mullins said.
"I'm speechless and I've never been speechless before in my life," said Bridgers, who lives in Fayetteville.
"This is what makes it all worthwhile – seeing someone who's feeling so much better and's got a new lease on life," Kathy Mullins said.
Duke surgeon Dr. Deepak Vikraman says 100,000 patients are waiting for a kidney transplant in this country. Each year, about 5,000 to 6,000 people agree to be living donors.
"The lifespan of that living donor transplant is much more than what is expected off a deceased donor kidney transplant, where the kidney's coming from a dead person," Vikraman said.
For Julie, Friday's meeting was an early present and a way celebrate her decision to donate.