SCHROON LAKE - In the past decade John Welch has welcomed two grandchildren into his life with another on the way.
The Schroon Lake man never would have seen them without the help of Deb Mackey.
Feb. 5 will mark the 10th anniversary of a kidney transplant that, doctors say, saved Welch's life. The kidney was donated by his cousin, Mackey.
"Deb gave me a wonderful gift. I probably wouldn't be here today without her," Welch said. "I go once a month for blood work and to be checked out. Everything is great. I feel good."
So does Mackey.
"I'm very excited, I can't believe it's been 10 years," said Mackey, a Ticonderoga resident. "We've had no problems.
"I feel really good about it," she continued. "It was only when I started looking back at the last 10 years that the magnitude of it all hit me. John would have died; he would have missed his grandchildren and so much more - and we would have missed him."
They plan to celebrate with a dinner in Schroon Lake Feb. 5.
At age 50 Welch suffered from diabetes, which damaged his kidneys to the point they no longer removed toxins from his body. He still has diabetes, but it's under control.
A decade ago he made the trip to Glens Falls Hospital three times a week for four hours of dialysis for 11 months. Since most kidney dialysis patients can only live about five years, Welch began to search for a kidney donor in hopes of a transplant.
The most obvious candidates, his brothers and sisters, were all eliminated because of health concerns.
When Mackey heard about her cousin's plight, she immediately volunteered. She proved to be a match.
Not only was Mackey a match, she's was considered a "perfect" match. Doctors tested them in six categories, hoping two would match. Mackey and Welch matched in three categories.
The surgery was complicated. There were two side-by-side operating rooms, two doctors and two of everything else as a kidney was removed from Mackey and inserted into Welch.
The successful operation allowed Welch to return to work at the Schroon highway department, although he has since retired.
"It gave me my life back," Welch said.
Mackey is great believer in organ donation and hopes others will follow her example.
"I think people in small communities sometimes don't realize what they can do," she said. "They see someone on TV who is alive because they got an organ transplant and think it's a nice story. They don't realize those great stories can happen right here.
"John and I are a real success story right in Ti and Schroon Lake," Mackey added. "No complications, no problems."
Mackey urged people to sign the organ donor portion of their driver's license and to discuss the issue with family members.
"People can make a real difference for others," she said.
Welch agrees. He urged everyone to be an organ donor, knowing first-hand the benefits.
"My oldest daughter is an organ donor," he said. "It's right on her license. I'm really pleased about that."