Selfie of Gomez and Purkhiser

Ricardo Gomez (left) and David Purkhiser (right) celebrate 10th anniversary of Gomez donating his kidney to Purkhiser after chronic kidney disease diagnosis.

Ten years ago, a local pastor stood before his congregation with a heartfelt plea, "Someone in our church needs a kidney." Little did they know this call to action would lead to a remarkable brotherhood between two near strangers.

There’s no greater love than to lay your life down for a friend.

John 15:13

David Purkhiser was four years old when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, becoming the first in his family to face the lifelong condition. Despite his efforts to manage it, the persistent strain of high blood sugar levels took a toll on his organs over time. As his kidneys gradually weakened, Purkhiser faced the harsh reality that his filtration system was failing and turning into chronic kidney disease. The need for a transplant became imminent as his kidney function declined, highlighting the critical importance of finding a suitable donor.

As Purkhiser's health declined, his family rallied around him, hoping to find a suitable kidney donor among them. Despite their efforts, the search proved futile. It was then he turned to his church community for support.

Among those who heard the call was Ricardo Gomez, a law enforcement officer who felt a divine nudge guiding him toward an unexpected path of altruism. Gomez never imagined his faith would lead him to such a profound act of generosity.

“I usually connect with God and pray while I run. I kept hearing God saying, ‘You need to stay active because I’m going to use you to save someone’s life one day,’” Gomez said. “I thought that was going to be in the line of duty. I had no idea what He had in mind was a transplant.”

Gomez and Purkhiser were heavily involved in their church. They separately joined a church men's group that encouraged members to reflect on weekly sermons and lean on each other to implement the messages in their lives. It was here that Gomez discovered the identity of the person in need: none other than his fellow community group member, Purkhiser.

“I already felt called, then I realized the person in need was Dave, and it became exciting like ‘Hey let’s do this,’” Gomez said. “It takes me back to John 15:13, ‘There’s no greater love than to lay your life down for a friend.’ I now consider him my brother.”

Gomez prepared himself physically and spiritually for the extensive process of becoming a donor. "Knowing that the transplant was coming, I did my work," he says. "I contacted other individuals who had been donors and had them share their experience with me," he said.

Michael de Vera, MD, FACS, now director of the Transplant Institute, performed a successful procedure, leading Purkhiser to wake up feeling an immediate surge of vitality as his body readily accepted the much-needed kidney. For Gomez, the road to recovery required preparation and physical endurance while his body was coping with the loss of a healthy organ.

Ten years later, both men are healthy, and tests continually prove the transplant’s success. Since then, Purkhiser and Gomez embarked on new adventures, guided by their shared values and faith. Purkhiser coaches a high school baseball team with one diabetic player, and he uses his experiences to mentor the teenager. Gomez recently retired from law enforcement and now works full-time in ministry. Together they lead an eight grade youth ministry group and continue to inspire those around them.

“1 Peter, 5:7, 'Give all your worries and cares to God for He cares deeply about you,’” Purkhiser recited. “I’ll watch the sun come up during my favorite time of the day and sometimes the beauty really affects me. I can’t help but tell Ricardo, ‘Hey, thanks for saving my life.’ It’s been ten years but I’m constantly grateful.”

Loma Linda University Health Transplant Institute, the only comprehensive multi-organ transplant center in the region, is grateful for selfless donors like Gomez who give others the opportunity for renewed life. Learn more about the Living Kidney Donor Program at Loma Linda University Health.