Georgia Masters member Mike Gaw donated a kidney to his mom, who watched him swim Saturday in their hometown
Mike Gaw knew immediately what he wanted to do when his mother told him two years ago that her kidney failure was permanent: Donate one of his.
There was one problem: She wasn’t willing to take one from him.
“No mom wants to put her child in harm’s way,” Cindy Gaw says. “I felt first the surgery was dangerous for him and then he was so active doing his Ironmans and things like that that I couldn’t imagine what life would be for him without one of his kidneys.”
Mike’s response: “Not having my mom in my life affects me much more negatively than giving up an organ I don’t even need.”
After the two learned how little impact donating a kidney would have on Mike, Cindy relented. Her son would still be able to participate in events, including the 2019 U.S. Masters Swimming Summer National Championship at the Marguerite Aquatic Center in Mission Viejo, Calif., and pursue his quest to complete an Ironman on the six continents one’s offered.
Mike was approved as a donor in November 2009, and being the character that he is, as his mother describes him, Mike decided to name his kidneys. He says he didn’t want the kidney he donated to be referred to as “Mike’s kidney” when it was hers, and he didn’t think “the kidney” did it justice.
The one going to his mother was named Hans, and the one that he would keep was named Franz. He came up with those names because of the recurring “Saturday Night Live” sketch of two muscular jocks of the same name.
His friends in Atlanta threw a “bon voyage” party for Hans before the surgery and a “reunion” party when his mother came to visit Mike following the surgery.
Cindy, of course, is grateful for Mike’s donation. She had a friend who joined the kidney transplant list about the same time as her, but she says he waited 10 years before a match was found and lived for just two years after the transplant because of the strain dialysis put on his body.
“This is a total gift,” says Cindy, who undergoes follow-up visits every four months but has continued to receive positive news about the transplant. “I wouldn’t have a life without it.”
Mike and Cindy even send cards every March to celebrate the anniversary of their surgery.
Hans and Franz, as well as Mike and Cindy, had a reunion at Summer Nationals. Mike grew up in Mission Viejo, where his family still lives, giving his mother an opportunity to see Mike swim after he didn’t do much competitive swimming growing up and him an opportunity to see his family.
“I have an easy excuse to come home and see my family,” Mike says, before deadpanning: “Free airport pick-up and home-cooked meals.”
The experience led Mike to begin competing in the Transplant Games of America, and he hopes to bring awareness to the need for organs to be available for transplant.
“Obviously once you’re gone, there’s nothing you can do with them, but you can absolutely change the world for someone else,” Mike says. “And even living donations, obviously it’s an individual decision, but I highly encourage it. There are risks, but it’s low risk and very, very high reward. The waiting list for people who need kidneys is staggering.”
Records Broken on Saturday, Aug. 10
Jeff Natalizio, Novaquatics Masters: men's 35-39 50 backstroke—26.54 (USMS record)
Jamie Fowler, Novaquatics Masters: men's 60-64 50 backstroke—30.59 (USMS record and FINA Masters world record)
Lo Knapp, Swim Utah: women's 65-69 100 breaststroke—1:32.24 (USMS and FINA Masters world record)
Hubie Kearns, Ventura County Masters: men's 70-74 200 IM—2:47.63 (USMS record)
Richard Burns, Tamalpais Aquatic Masters: men's 75-79 200 IM—2:57.66 (USMS and FINA Masters world record)
Ellen Reynolds, Sawtooth Masters: women's 55-59 400 freestyle—4:46.49 (USMS record)
Laura Val, Tamalpais Aquatic Masters: women's 65-69 400 freestyle—5:12.80 (USMS record and FINA Masters world record)
Swim Fort Lauderdale: mixed 72-99 200 medley relay—1:55.58 (USMS record)
Rose Bowl Masters: mixed 100-119 200 medley relay—1:54.22 (USMS record)
Novaquatics Masters: mixed 160-199 200 medley relay—1:56.34 (USMS record)
Oregon Masters: mixed 320-359 200 medley relay—3:09.61 (USMS record)
San Diego Swim Masters: mixed 320-359 200 medley relay—3:08.65 (USMS record)
Note: All records are subject to change pending verification.