News / Calgary

After losing touch for 20 years, Calgary man donating kidney to high school friend

Shamus Neeson wants to encourage others to become living organ donors

Shamus Neeson, left, was originally going to donate a kidney to a stranger – but fate had other plans. He is now donating it to high school football teammate Nelson Nobrega, after the two lost touch for 20 years. "I just want to give him a big hug," Nobrega said.

Elizabeth Cameron/For Metro

Shamus Neeson, left, was originally going to donate a kidney to a stranger – but fate had other plans. He is now donating it to high school football teammate Nelson Nobrega, after the two lost touch for 20 years. "I just want to give him a big hug," Nobrega said.

When Shamus Neeson signed up to be a living kidney donor in 2015, he didn’t know to whom his organ would go. He knew he would be saving a life, and that’s all that mattered.

Through the grapevine, Neeson heard rumours about a friend of a friend who needed a kidney.

That person turned out to be Nelson Nobrega – who attended high school with Neeson 20 years prior. 

They played junior football together, and had recently reconnected on Facebook.

“I messaged him and said, 'Hey, I heard you need a kidney and I’ve got one,'” said Neeson, laughing.

They were the same blood type, and after more testing, found out they were a complete match.

The date was set – on Feb. 8, both Neeson and Nobrega will check into the Foothills Hospital for surgery. 

“It’s one of those serendipitous things. We haven’t seen each other in 20 years, and all of a sudden we’ve come to this point,” said Nobrega, who has been battling kidney disease for the past eight years and gets hooked up to a dialysis machine for four hours, three times a week.

Initially, Neeson was matched with someone who had been waiting for more than eight years – but the victim of a fatal car crash turned out to be a perfect match for her, and the transplant went ahead.

“That left me in a bit of limbo,” said Neeson, who was still determined to donate his kidney to someone.

“I had already made the decision mentally that I was doing this. At that point, it really didn’t matter who I was saving,” he said. 

The process to become a donor wasn’t difficult, according to Neeson, who wants to encourage other Calgarians to sign up for Alberta’s Living Donor Program. 

“I’m going to be off work for a couple months and I’m helping lengthen someone’s life – why not?” he said. 

Nobrega said he feels blessed to have a friend like Neeson.

“My first question when I wake up from surgery will be, ‘How is Shamus doing?’”

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