Every life Joel Pratt helps to save keeps the memory of Lynda, his beloved wife of nearly 25 years, alive. She died in 1998 after a three-year battle with breast cancer.
Pratt was heartbroken — “not being able to cure her took half my soul out of my body,” he says—but he was determined not to sit idly by while others suffered the way Lynda had. He decided to join an effort to help ill people who could be saved. That’s why, for the past nine years, he has dedicated himself to raising money for MatchingDonors.com, a nonprofit online service based in Canton, Mass., that matches patients who need a kidney transplant with living donors. “There are always more patients waiting for deceased donors than there are available organs, but living donors can literally save lives by adding to the supply now,” Pratt says.
The median wait time nationally for a kidney transplant is 3.3 years, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For some patients, the wait time can exceed five years, depending on factors such as blood type, age, and geographic location. But because MatchingDonors.com matches patients with living donors, the wait can be much shorter: Patients who have found a donor through the site typically have gotten a transplant within six months.
So far, MatchingDonors.com has matched donors only with patients who need kidneys. Kidneys are the most commonly needed organs and the only ones that many hospitals will accept from living donors.
Stephen Meservey, who is in his 40s and lives near Boston, got a new lease on life because of Pratt. The information technology analyst went into kidney failure because of diabetes and was on dialysis. “I couldn’t climb a flight of stairs without getting wiped out,” Meservey says. “It was hard to get through the work day.”
Then, in 2012, a friend of his met Pratt. As is his custom, Pratt handed over a MatchingDonors card and asked if the friend knew anyone who could help or be helped by the matching service. Within a year, Meservey had found a living kidney donor.
Since then, life has largely returned to normal for Meservey. He has energy for his four children, he’s back at work, and he’s been able to do renovations on his home.
Pratt and MatchingDonors.com were literally his life-savers. “You wouldn’t be able to do it yourself if it weren’t for that Web site,” Meservey says. “I thank God the process was there for me to find a donor.”
Pratt doesn’t just pass out cards. As a volunteer, he instruct patients like Meservey on how to search for donors in MatchingDonors’ database. Once a prospective donor is found, the organization helps set them up with a hospital to test whether they are a good match.
And since 2004, Pratt has used his sales skills to raise more than $1 million for the organization. He starts by soliciting property donations. Once he finds people to donate homes and other property, he and others resell the property and give the proceeds, including commissions, to MatchingDonors.com.
In addition to houses, Pratt has sold donated cars, boats, and entire stocks of inventory from stores going out of business. He finds donations and buyers using old-fashioned marketing. He hits the pavement. And, of course, he passes out MatchingDonors.com cards everywhere he goes.
“Everyone knows someone who knows someone who needs an organ,” Pratt says. “You can find compassion anywhere.”
The organization has saved 500 lives since its inception, and MatchingDonors.com CEO Paul Dooley attributes hundreds of those success stories to Pratt’s efforts. “He doesn’t let you give up,” Dooley says. “He’s the kind of person who, if you run out of energy, is like, ‘Here, take my energy.’”
Pratt finds comfort knowing he’s doing the kind of work his late wife would have wanted him to do. “You wake up in the morning, and you know who you’re working for,” Pratt says. “Helping people rebuilds my heart and soul.”