Paul Smith and Jafau Delane If you’re lucky in life, you have at least one close friend you can count on. Someone who is supportive in good times and bad. Someone who has a generous spirit.

However, do you have a friend who would give you an organ?

Paul Smith is one of the really lucky ones. When he developed a kidney disease so severe that he needed a transplant, his friend, Jafau Delane (on the right in the photo), stepped in to give the greatest gift — the gift of life.

Facing Kidney Failure


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For two decades, Paul Smith battled a genetic kidney condition called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS). FSGS occurs when scar tissue develops on the small parts of the kidney, the glomeruli, that filter waste out of the blood. The condition can lead to kidney failure. Smith would need a kidney transplant to save his life. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Smith, who owns a construction company, relied on dialysis three times a week. “It was painful, it was stressful and it took your whole day away,” he recalls.

“Emotionally, FSGS can be very depressing,” says Joseph Keith Melancon, MD, FACS, Chief of the GW Transplant Institute and Division of Transplant Surgery and Medical Director of the Ron and Joy Paul Kidney Center. “However, Mr. Smith didn’t allow kidney failure to interfere with his very productive life. That attitude was important.”

Smith was placed on a kidney transplant waiting list in hope of finding a match, which, according to the National Kidney Foundation, could take between three and five years. He wouldn’t have to wait that long.

A Friend’s Ultimate Gift

Over the years, Smith and Delane forged a strong bond, first as volunteer youth football coaches when their sons played on the same team. Delane is a father of five and works at an airline company.

Delane learned that Smith was struggling on dialysis and needed a kidney donor. After talking with his wife, Delane decided that if he was a match, he would be his friend’s donor.

Delane lost a sister to kidney disease and his aunt donated her kidney to her husband years back. “I do know that dialysis road is not a good one,” Delane says. “I just wanted Paul to have a good quality life. I didn’t have any hesitation.”

In fact, Delane recalls that Smith was the one who needed convincing to receive his friend’s kidney. “When somebody gives you a part of their body and you didn’t ask for that, that’s just unbelievable,” Smith says of his friend. “But I’m here to tell you, you can believe it because he did it.”

Dr. Melancon was the surgeon in charge of the transplantation and felt moved by Delane’s generosity. “The types of people that decide to be donors are very altruistic,” he says. “They have a well of goodness inside of them that’s a little deeper than the normal human.”

'Let’s Do This'

That’s what Delane said to Smith, and their kidney transplantation journey began. Delane was the match they hoped for and in great physical condition for the procedure. “I’m not a believer in chance,” Smith says. “It was just meant to be.”

The night before surgery, Smith and Delane spent a lot of time in prayer. In the operating room, both patients were placed under anesthesia. Through small incisions, one of Delane’s healthy kidneys was removed first. After removing one of Smith’s kidneys, the healthy kidney was transplanted into Smith’s body and connected to the bladder. The transplant was a success.

“The actual operation usually goes very well because it’s what we call minimally invasive surgery,” Dr. Melancon explains. “Small incisions are done with the laparoscope. You don’t have to cut through a lot of muscle, which means that the pain is minimized.”

Delane was surprised that he recovered so quickly. “That night I might have been walking all night because they were telling me that the one advantage is to start walking,” he says.

Because he was the kidney recipient, Smith’s recovery was longer and more complex, but his gratitude to Delane – and his concern for how his friend was doing — helped carry him through. “The next night after surgery they got me in my room,” Smith recalls. “I said, ‘How’s Jafau?’ and he came down to my room and he was leaving.”

A New Start and a Stronger Bond

Paul Smith and Jafau Delane feel more like family than friends these days. Delane’s parents called Smith after the surgery. “His mom said, ‘You’re my other son now,’ “ Smith recalls.

Smith says that he feels better than he has in 10 years. “I will never be able to thank Jafau or GW Hospital enough for my successful kidney transplant,” he says. “GW Hospital is simply amazing. Even today with my continued visits for check-ups — they just treat me like I’m somebody, and that’s important.”

Delane is thriving and grateful as well. “I personally thank GW Hospital for the constant information, the care, the follow through,” he says. “Donating a kidney is a great thing and GW Hospital made it that much easier for me.”