Jeff Bramstedt was once a Navy SEAL; he may no longer save lives as a Hollywood stuntman and skydiving instructor, but giving is still very much part of his life. He didn’t hesitate when he learned a total stranger in Colorado would die of a genetic disease if she didn’t receive a life-saving donation.
“It’s not okay for someone to die if you don’t step up,” Bramstedt told the UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, where the transplant took place. “That was a no-brainer to me. There are very few things more noble than an average person can do to make a difference.”
The lucky recipient? Melinda Ray, a 35-year-old mother-of-three from Centennial. Ray was diagnosed when she was 20 with polycystic kidney disease. Doctors believed the genetic condition wouldn’t affect her for several decades. Last year, however, they found cysts growing on her liver, crushing her organs. According to UCHealth, there are 14,000 people in the U.S. who need a liver transplant each year, but only half receive one.
What’s miraculous about how Bramstedt and Ray were brought together was how it all started.
Bramstedt’s wife, Robin Infeldt read this post on Facebook that Ray wrote and immediately thought of her husband. When you see how much suffering Ray was experiencing, it’s not difficult to understand why her donor had such empathy.
“My lung has collapsed, and both are slowly closing up. My heart is literally lying on my liver and being pushed up into my sternum,” Ray explained in a public appeal posted to Facebook. “The worry is how long until they stop working? How long until things start shutting down?”
The 47-year-old from San Diego responded, “I’ll do it.”
After undergoing the various tests to see if he was a match, on learning the good news, Bramstedt and his wife went to Colorado to personally share it with Ray.
Ray explained her initial reaction after learning Bramstedt was a match: “I just couldn’t let him go,” Ray said. “Just being able to feel this guy who would do this for me, I immediately loved this person. It’s like having a family member in a split-second that you love completely.”
Ray and her husband adopted their now 17-year-old son, Callum. Bramstedt was also adopted. He believes fate drew him and Ray together: “My parents saved my life by adopting me,” Bramstedt said. “I wouldn’t have made it to 30 without them stepping up to the plate. When I learned that James and Melinda had adopted their oldest, it made me feel as though I was paying it forward. My parents mean the world to me. They made me who I am today.”
Things are looking up for Ray; the two underwent the transplant in December. Both are doing well: “It gave me great hope in humanity and also hope that I could be a mom and a wife,” Ray said. “The fact that someone would put their life on hold for me and stop their life to save mine, it meant everything to me. It was the greatest relief I’d ever felt.”
I can only imagine that feeling; Ray can thoroughly enjoy life with her family. Bramstedt, though he’ll be off work for some time, doesn’t regret his decision. He’s saved a life.