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July 17, 2018

Living His Best Life After Bidding Farewell to World’s Largest Kidneys

By In the Loop

“Owner of the world’s largest kidneys” was never a title Gene Okun wanted to have. And today, thanks to a living donor and a Mayo Clinic surgical team, he no longer does.

"Owner of the world's largest kidneys" was never a title Gene Okun wanted to have. And today, thanks to a living donor and Mayo Clinic transplant surgeons, he no longer does.


Gene Okun can finally relax. And he can retire from a second full-time job he’s carried for two years — one he never wanted in the first place.

On top of his regular gig as president of Microgrid Energy in sunny Newport Beach, California, Gene has spent the past couple years on the phone, online, on airplanes — basically always on — managing a social media campaign aimed at finding a suitable living donor to replace his kidneys. Those kidneys, it's been reported, may just be the world's largest kidneys. They're the result of polycystic kidney disease, which Gene was diagnosed with in his early 30s.

The search for a donor was physically and emotionally draining. For a time, it seemed to be going nowhere. "I was grateful to meet a number of potential donors, but unfortunately, none of them made it through the screening process," Gene tells us.

Then one of Gene’s oldest and dearest friends, Bill McNeese, stepped in and offered to be tested.

At first, it looked as though Bill might not be able to donate a kidney. But he was determined to help his friend. He spent the next 10 months working on his health, which Gene tells us did the trick. "At that point, my doctors at Mayo Clinic felt like he might be a good candidate, so we flew to Rochester together so Bill could go through three days of testing."

Bill passed his tests, Gene says, with flying colors. Needless to say, Gene was overwhelmed. "I almost don’t have words to describe how amazing it felt to find out Bill was qualified to be my donor," he tells us. "To end up getting a kidney from someone I know just made it that much more special because he really cares for me and I really care for him."

Before Gene could get Bill’s kidney, however, a surgical team first needed to remove Gene's massively enlarged and underperforming kidneys — a slow and tedious process that went down at Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus in early June under the surgical expertise of Mikel Prieto, M.D. Dr. Prieto would end up removing 19 liters of fluid during the procedure, which Gene says came from the kidneys’ cysts. In the end, Gene says the procedure "honestly couldn’t have gone better."

Gene tells us the same can be said of his recovery and his newfound quality of life. "I’m doing very well," he tells us. "I’m already back at work. I can take a full breath now, which I couldn’t before. My appetite is back in full and I’m also able to sit comfortably in restaurant booths again. I just feel generally better, and I’m so very blessed and grateful for everything Bill and Mayo Clinic have done for me. Dr. Prieto’s an amazing surgeon with an equally amazing team behind him, and I can’t thank them enough."

You can read more of Gene’s transplant story here. Then let us know what you think by sharing your comments below before using the social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.


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Tags: Dr. Mikel Prieto, Kidney transplant, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Patient Stories, Polycystic Kidney Disease

I recall the original story and familiarized myself with Gene's campaign website (outstanding)! So glad the campaigning is over and that he has such a good and devoted friend in Bill, who would do all it would take to ensure his kidney could be donated to Gene! Gene, so happy for you! Bill, you're a life-saving, life-quality-improving hero in my eyes, not to mention Gene's! Thank you!

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