It’s always surprising to run into a friend at a supermarket or some other unexpected places — so imagine the shock a two longtime friends in Michigan felt when they encountered each other at a hospital after both underwent a transplant surgery.
Fred Nelis and Gordon Veldman are now telling the story of the special bond they discovered and felt when they emerged from surgeries at Spectrum Health’s Richard DeVos Heart & Lung Transplant Program in Grand Rapids, Michigan last June. Nelis, 60 years old, received a new heart and Veldman, who’s 67, got new lungs. But it was more than just a coincidence being there at the same time — the two men found out that they had become “transplant brothers” since both of them received organs from the same 32-year-old donor.
The hospital waited to release their story until both patients had their six-month- check-ups and making sure that the two men are doing just fine.
Nelis was diagnosed 20 years ago with a progressive heart disease, known as, idiopathic cardiomyopathy. As the illness progresses, he became more ill then he developed a trial fibrillation. Veldman on the other hand, had emphysema and chronic pulmonary disease for years and doctors eventually diagnosed him with Alpha-1, a genetic disease that slowly destroys the lungs.
The two met about 10 years ago; Veldman was a good friend of Nelis’s brother-in-law.
While both men were undergoing surgery, their families sat and began chatting in the waiting room. They quickly realized they shared a connection.
“As the night wore on and [the surgeons] were doing their magic with us, everyone was doing their banter back and forth,” Nelis told CBS News.
When both men emerged from their post-operative sleep they had the opportunity to talk to each other. “I told him this is quite a surprise knowing that somebody coincidentally is having a transplant and happening on the same night as me and with the same donor as well,” said Nelis.
The two friends wanted to share their story to the public to reinforce the importance of organ donation.
Two moths after surgery Nelis, who lives in Holland, Michigan, drove 80 miles to visit his transplant brother at his home in Pentwater.
“God has instituted a ritual when we see each other. We embrace in a fashion that would put the two organs in close proximity as a tribute to our donor. To have the good fortune of someone I knew and to share the experience with… that doesn’t happen very often,” Nelis said.