Phil Wooley was aware of the plight of fellow Dayton resident David Mickelson for several months, but “it was fairly easy to ignore.”
Mickelson had posted in a few community groups on social media he was in dire need of a new kidney. Without it, he won’t survive.
Then, in late 2018, Mickelson sent a request to join the Dayton Pigs, a grassroots group spearheaded by Wooley dedicated to cleaning garbage out of the desert.
“It was right there in my face, and I couldn’t ignore it anymore,” Wooley recalled. “I messaged him right then and asked what it would take for me to become a donor.”
Turns out, Wooley’s blood was a match. But there was a problem. Wooley, 41, had been a smoker since he was 13, and smokers can’t be donors.
“I quit that day,” Wooley said.
He finally found the motivation he needed.
“This has been my most successful attempt yet,” Wooley said. “If I ever have that moment of weakness, I think of David. Somebody else’s life is on the line besides just mine.”
Mickelson, who survived a childhood brain tumor, was diagnosed with kidney failure as a result of an autoimmune disorder shortly before moving to Nevada from the Bay area in 2014.
He’s been on dialysis since, but it only rids the body of about 10 to 15 percent of the toxins a kidney would do.
“Because of my kidney disease, I’m having additional problems that are inhibiting my ability to live life the way I want to,” Mickelson said.
So far, Wooley has passed all of the medical tests to determine whether he’s a match. He’s traveling to San Francisco in early March for even more tests.
Still, there’s a ways to go — and Mickelson isn’t out of the woods.
“We could be laying on the operating tables, ready to go, and be rejected,” Mickelson said.
While he’s grateful — beyond grateful — for Wooley’s sacrifice, Mickelson can’t afford to give up looking for a donor.
“My life depends on it,” he said. “Without it, I will likely die.”
For Wooley’s part, he plans to donate a kidney, even if it ends up not working out for Mickelson.
“Right now, I have four times the filtration system I’ll need for my entire lifetime,” he explained. “With one kidney, you have two times the filtration system you need. It’s a very small inconvenience on my part compared to what David’s looking at.”
Wooley is setting up donation boxes where he works as a graphic designer at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, Kit Kat, Sagebrush and Love ranches.
He said his wife, Lisa, was somewhat reluctant at first but understands his motivation. He hopes his five children see him as an example.
“I don’t have to know somebody to care enough to save their life,” Wooley said. “This has nothing to do with politics or anything else. It’s human life.”
Already, Wooley said, Mickelson has repaid his debt. Today marks 64 days since Wooley’s last cigarette.
“I’ve told him that’s the trade-off,” Wooley said. “He saved my life. Now, I’m saving his.”
Teri Vance is a journalist, freelance writer and native Nevadan. Contact her with column ideas at email@example.com.