In one month, two Kannapolis police officers were organ donors

KANNAPOLIS, NC (WBTV) - It's not every day that one department can tell the story of being involved in multiple organ donations, but Kannapolis Police have two stories of officers who recently donated kidneys.

"It just shows the quality of people that we work with here and that we're willing to do that," Lt. Justin Smith said. "We look out - not only for each other, but outside of the police department."

Sergeant Jason Hinson, a 17-year veteran of the department who has been out on medical leave for the last six weeks, will be back on the job at the end of the week.

Sgt. Hinson says his story started last year June when he decided to go on a health kick.

"My blood pressure was borderline high. My sugar was borderline and I just decided to start working out, eating better and just trying to get healthy just for my own self," he said. "Three months later, I lost 30 pounds - blood pressure was good, sugar was good."

Sgt. Hinson says at that time he saw a flyer that a colleague at the Kannapolis Police Department posted about her husband who needed a kidney.

"I wasn't unhealthy. My pressure wasn't high, it was just borderline. My sugar wasn't off, it was borderline," Sgt. Hinson recalled. "So the months I spent losing weight and getting healthy, I wasn't sure until I seen the post, and God said this is why you've been doing it – it was to get healthy enough to donate this kidney."

Hinson says he contacted his colleague. He didn't know her husband.

"And I was born with cysts in my kidneys," Brian Frieze said. "And the cysts continued to multiply and grow over the years."

Frieze, who works for Kannapolis Department of Public Works, says doctors told him he would probably need a kidney by age 50.

Now, at 49 years old, he has been on the waiting list.

"Kidneys continued to get bigger and bigger. When they took my left one out, my left one was right at 18 pounds. My right one was nine pounds. And they're supposed to be a third of a pound and the size of your fist so that's how big they were," Frieze said. "Left one came out September 2015. Right one August 2016."

Frieze added, "from August 2016 to September 20th, 2017, I didn't have any kidneys at all, so I went a year and several months without urinating at all."

His wife posted a flyer asking for people to get tested to donate a kidney.

That's the flyer Sgt. Hinson saw and decided to respond. He says he received a packet of information and started the process of getting tested.

After several trips to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, there was a problem.

"You qualify as a good donor but you're not a match for Brian," Frieze recounted medical staff telling them.

Sgt. Hinson had a question to face.

"Was I willing – still willing - to donate to a stranger in the event that stranger has someone that wasn't a match for them and they would donate for Brian," he said. "And that's where the pair donation came in. So that's how we ended up here."

Even though Sgt. Hinson wasn't a match for Brian Frieze, he could still donate to someone else and Brian could still get a kidney.

"They took Jason and they took me and they put us in a database all over the United States and they found somebody else that needed a transplant that had a good donor but it wasn't a match for them but it was a match for me," Frieze said. "And my donor, which was Jason Hinson, was a match for that person so we actually swapped donors."

Then came the surgery.

"So they took Jason's kidney out at 4 o'clock in the morning on September 20. They took the other person's out and I'm not sure where they were at – but I know it was out of state," Frieze said. "They took theirs out at 4 put them on planes. They opened the other recipient up and opened me up at 7 o'clock and that's when they did the kidney transplant."

Why was Sgt. Hinson willing to donate to a stranger?

"As a Christian, I serve Christ. I strive to serve Christ," he said. "As a police officer, I strive to serve others so in this case here it was both of them."

Six weeks later, he says he has no regrets.

"I just have a peace about it," he said. "I have peace about it. I know that's what I was supposed to do and make a difference."

That surgery was not Kannapolis Police Department's introduction to organ donation.

Master Police Officer David Horne's kidneys were failing.

"It's scary for one but the biggest thought in my mind was how do you ask anybody to hey – mine are bad can you give me one of yours?" Horne said. "I mean how do you ask anybody to do that?"

Officer Horne, an 18-year veteran, says he told his supervisor, Lt. Justin Smith, that he would soon need some time off. He told him why.

"At that point, I was like send me the paperwork and I'll be tested," Lt. Smith said.

Smith says he remembered years ago when the Chief of Kannapolis Police needed an organ donated.

"A few years prior to that our chief of police was in need of a kidney and I didn't fully understand the donor process," Lt. Smith said. "I was very ignorant on the issue. I thought it was more of a family member. I didn't know different people could be tested."

Lt. Smith, over the objections of Officer Horne, was tested.

"They told us there was a 10% chance that he would have been a match," Officer Horne said.

Lt. Smith turned out to be a match.

That surgery happened two months ago in August.

"I'm blessed, that's the only word I can come up with. Me and my family are just totally blessed," Officer Horne said. "I don't know personally too many people who would step up and do that for someone else."

With two organ donation surgeries in one month involving four Kannapolis city employees, each man came away with a similar thought.

"I believe there's more people in the world that are willing to do this than there is not," Lt. Smith said.

"What statistics show is that if one out of every 100 people in U.S. get checked to see if they were a donor, it would completely wipe out that three-to-five year waiting list," Frieze added. "But people just don't think about it. They think about becoming a donor on a license is good enough. People could really help people."

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