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'Saving someone's life is really priceless,' says 30-year-old living donor

Turning 30 is a big milestone and many people may have tasks they want to accomplish before the "big 3-0." "Donate a kidney" isn't a common item on that list, though. But that's exactly what 30-year-old Chris Tock did, volunteering to give his kidney to his family's friend Paul Violino.
Chris Tock (left) and Paul Violino (right)

Turning 30 is a big milestone and many people may have tasks they want to accomplish before the "big 3-0." "Donate a kidney" isn't a common item on that list, though. 

According to the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network, of the 28,144 kidney transplants performed in the United States in 2023, 6,290 were from living donors. Of those living donors, only 1,500 of them were between the ages of 18 and 34. 

Thirty-year-old Chris Tock became one of those donors when he volunteered to give his kidney to his family's friend Paul Violino. And while finding donors under age 35 is uncommon, Chris was never worried about the prospect of living with one kidney. 

"Obviously it's definitely a little scary," said Chris, "You're going to be nervous, but someone else out there might need it more than you do. And that's why you have two of them. [Living with one kidney] doesn't shred life expectancy at all [and] saving someone's life is really priceless."

In Chris's case, the someone is question was Paul, who was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (PKD) 30 years ago. For a long time, he said his PKD diagnosis made little noticeable impact on his life beyond needing to watch his salt intake and starting a medicine to control his high blood pressure.

All that changed in October 2022. Paul found out his PKD had progressed to the point that his kidneys were only 12% functional, meaning he was in kidney failure. To survive — and avoid dialysis — he found himself needing a kidney transplant. Fortunately, Paul's family friend (and Chris's father) Steve Tock quickly volunteered to be his living organ donor. 

The friends were delighted when Steve was a match, but delight turned to disappointment when Steve encountered an unrelated health issue that ultimately disqualified him from donating. 

"He was devastated that he couldn't [donate]," said Paul. "He went out of his way, and this was a process that started in December of 2022 and carried on for him until August 2023. So, it was nine months [of] going through all the tests and everything… and he said from the beginning, 'I'm all in' and he kept trying." 

Despite Steve's efforts, he could not donate his kidney to Paul. Luckily, Chris, was ready to step in.

"I figured I'll go in and get tested because I'm the same blood type," said Chris. "Turned out I was a match and then they said, 'OK, Chris, you're the backup now' and then they said, 'Hey, Chris, you're the main guy now.' It was like 15 minutes in between phone calls."

When Chris became "the main guy," he had some concerns about going under anesthesia since he had never undergone surgery before. However, he said he didn't have any hesitations about donating his kidney.

The two also noted that being with each other and their families before the surgery helped with their nerves. "I think that helped kind of ease both of us and you know we were just kind of joking around and that that made it easier for me anyway," said Paul. 

The Violino and Tock families originally connected through Paul's wife, Laura, and Steve's wife, Teresa. They were friends from the time they were two until Laura sadly passed in July 2023. 

But the reach of that friendship is still felt through their families — and now through this kidney donation.

"Both of our families are really close," explained Chris. "I'm best friends with [Paul's] son and roommates with his other son."

"I kind of think of it as she had something to do with this," Paul said, explaining that he wouldn't have Chris's kidney if he had never met Laura. "It's a nice story after the sadness of her passing."

Two weeks after surgery, Chris and Paul were both amazed at how well they were recovering. 

"It's been great! Both of us have bounced back pretty quick," said Paul. "I mean, there's still pain at the site. But other than that, everything is going good. Kidney function is phenomenal and each day it seems to get better and better."

Chris is also looking at his donation as an opportunity to live a healthier lifestyle. "Everything in moderation, but just more doctor visits, which I should have been doing anyways," he said. 

As for Steve, Chris said, "I think he definitely wished that it was still him even after the surgery was over… He was definitely a little disappointed that it wasn't him, but he was very proud of me that I stepped in to do it."

"Both these guys were incredible and sticking with it and all that sort of stuff," said Paul. "How do you thank somebody for doing something like that?"

For now, Paul is moving forward, selling his house to move back to an area where he used to live.  With the loss of his wife and the life-changing transplant, he sees life from a different perspective than in the past.  

"Each day is a gift. I know that now more than ever. I know that I can celebrate Laura's life simply by celebrating life and enjoying it to the fullest. I intend to do just that with my amazing family and friends," said Paul.

As for Chris, he's planning for a long, healthy life with his one kidney: "I'll have a nice normal life and hopefully [live to] my hundreds one day."


Meredith Deeley

Meredith Deeley is the communications manager for the American Kidney Fund.