Man secretly figures out he's perfect donor match for dad despite no genetic connection

Posted at 9:15 PM, Aug 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-12 21:15:23-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — As a detective for Detroit police, Steve Ford is called in to begin investigating homicides all hours of the day and night. And only a handful of Steve's colleagues knew what he was up against aside from unraveling mysteries on the city's streets.

"He can come in at the end of the day, he's drained, he's tired, he may get a call and he's got to leave back out," said Cynthia Ford, Steve's wife. "Just seeing him have to go through that is a very painful reality to watch, but I'm sure it's even more tiresome and hard for him."

Years ago, when Steve, a veteran of the United States Air Force, was activated to go to Iraq, doctors discovered trouble with his kidney functions, but with medication, he was able to continue with his military duties that spanned 25 years and also his work with Detroit Police.

But a year ago, Steve's kidney disease began to deteriorate dramatically and he was forced to go on dialysis.

"I actually felt better," Steve said. But reality set in and so did the disease, prompting doctors to put him on the waiting list for an organ donor.

"I have no idea why my numbers started dropping," said Steve who also described an exhaustion he wasn't used to feeling. "I used to get up and go to the gym and then to work.. and then the bed won more than the gym."

Watching their dad struggle was also difficult for Steve's children, McKenzie and her older brother, Austin.

"It's definitely been really sad. I think it's taken a huge toll on the whole family," said McKenzie, who is pursuing a master's degree at Michigan State University. "It's not what we're used to seeing from him."

The couple's son, Austin, who works in Chicago, said despite the challenges their dad is going through, seeing his strength and resilience has been inspiring.

"You always kind of look at your parents as superheroes," Austin said, describing how their father continues to show strength and resilience. "He's getting up every day with a purpose and attacking life."

Doctors had told Steve and his family that it could take five to seven years for him to receive the gift of an organ from a deceased donor.

"I don't think any wife can really imagine her husband needing a transplant and what that feels like. So it's something that I wouldn't wish on anyone," said Cynthia.

What Steve and his wife didn't know is that their son was quietly researching the possibility of becoming a living organ donor for his dad. Austin wanted to have answers for himself and for the questions his parents might also ask him about giving such an incredible gift to his father, but also continuing his own life with one kidney.

Austin wanted his family to have a "well-informed conversation." about him being a living donor for his dad.

At that same time, Austin was also able to tell his family that he had been tested and was a match.

Cynthia described mixed emotions.

"I think like any mother, you're concerned about your child and an organ coming out of his body and going into my husband. This is still my child," Cynthia said.

"I'm kind of shocked," Steve said. "First, I'm supposed to take care of them - not them take care of me. I don't want my kids to lose their kidneys."

After weighing all of the information Austin had gathered through his research, Steve's children and his wife made the decision for him.

"They pretty much forced me to do it," Steve said.

What's remarkable is that while Steve is Austin's dad, the two do not share any genetic connection.

When Steve married Cynthia 22 years ago, Austin was 6 years old, and he's raised him as his own ever since.

"It's unbelievable," Cynthia said of her son being a match. "I use the phrase 'God designed' because I really believe that this is God's gift."

"I was super shocked," McKenzie said. "They are not actually biological father and son so it was super surprising that they were a perfect match."

Austin and his dad will arrive at Michigan Medicine Friday for the surgeries.

"It doesn't feel like I'm losing anything. It just feels like glory," said Austin. "Just to be in a position to give a gift, to be a solution, to be a difference-maker.. that's what he's always been to me."

Recovery for both Austin and his dad is expected to last four to six weeks.

"We're going to be together," Steve said. "We'll get through it together."