Paul Loeffler on power of prayer, becoming an organ donor
Days before the long drive to UCSF Medical Center in preparation for major surgery, patient Paul Loeffler listened calmly as the doctor asked the question one more time.
Are you sure you’re willing to give up one of your kidneys?
Doctors assured Loeffler that as a donor, he could back out of the operation even on the day of surgery.
Loeffler, the voice of Fresno State athletics, took the consent forms and signed them.
Then he chuckled and smiled as if he’d simply concluded a radio broadcast of another Bulldogs victory.
“All in God’s hand,” Loeffler said later, recounting the operation that occurred in January.
Friend Michael Alexander, a 67-year-old Fresno resident, had been waiting roughly two years to receive a new kidney.
Loeffler, 41, had come to realize he’d been on call to donate for nearly three decades.
Paying it forward, after all, can mean paying it forward at the right time.
Loeffler was inspired to give “the gift of life” after his father Bobby Loeffler received a kidney transplant 28 years ago – even if his father’s donor had happened to be a deceased person.
“My dad was an incredible guy,” Loeffler said. “He could do anything, build anything, fix anything. And I saw him lose a lot of those abilities.
“He had a kidney transplant, which gave him some of his life back. I look back at those (final) eight years that I had with him as a big life-changing gift for me.”
Alexander, who was born with one kidney, already had gone through one transplant, in 1999. Alexander’s brother Hugh was the donor.
It held up two years longer than the average life of most donated kidneys, but failed in 2016 after 17 years.
Family members once again tried to step up to help Alexander. But this time, no one was a capable, matching donor, either because of age, health or compatibility.
Alexander ended up on dialysis and was placed on California’s organ transplant wait list.
The odds of getting a kidney never seem good. According to organdonor.gov., more than 116,000 people have been on the national transplant waiting list since August 2017. The average wait time for a kidney can be three to five years, perhaps longer in some geographical regions of the country, according to kidney.org.
“We just tried to keep faith and prayed a lot,” wife Linda Alexander said. “We also had tremendous support and prayers from our (church) members and dear friends.”
Loeffler, who initially met Alexander while the two attended The Well Community Church a few years ago, wanted to help.
But to donate to someone who is not a family member? To a person Loeffler had known for just six years? And to a recipient who’s 26 years his senior?
Many might have second-guessed making such a generous gesture. Some might never have stepped up.
With support from his family, Loeffler pressed forward and prayed.
“I really believe that when we’re blessed,” Loeffler said, “it’s our obligation to share that blessing with others.”
When his father’s donated kidney began to deteriorate, Loeffler tried to donate then.
Because he loved his dad so much and always looked up to him, a 21-year-old Paul Loeffler firmly told his parents he wanted to donate one of his kidneys to help save his father’s life. Mom and dad, however, gently turned down their youngest son’s offer.
“They were very smart to do that,” said Loeffler, who has an older brother, older sister and a younger sister. “That wouldn’t have been a good idea at that age.”
In the months following Loeffler’s decision to donate a kidney to Alexander, Fresno State’s play-by-play announcer believes he started to receive validated signs.
Tests confirmed Loeffler and Alexander had similar organ sizes, the same blood type and compatible tissue. Doctors called them a perfect match.
“To me, it was God’s confirmation every step of the way,” Loeffler said. “We put it in God’s hands, and he’s worked out all the details.”
Alexander said he is forever grateful for Loeffler’s generosity and courage.
“It humbled me that someone like Paul would be willing to give me a kidney,” Alexander said. “I became emotional. After we talked, I had tears at home.”
As he did with the first kidney donated to him, Alexander nicknamed the kidney that Loeffler gave. He calls it “Bobby,” in honor of Loeffler’s dad, and jokes that he and Loeffler now are twins.
As Alexander made the twin comment with Loeffler by his side, Paul couldn’t help but smile upon hearing his father’s name.
Bobby Loeffler was no longer a hero just to a son. He was a savior to an elderly man he’d never met.
“Having Paul give me Bobby has been a blessing,” Alexander said. “It is a new lease on life. I think I have an obligation to honor the gift that Paul gave.”
Alexander also is known for helping others. He was president and chief executive officer for United Way of Fresno County before retiring in 2015, and worked various roles with Kaiser Permanente Health Plan and Hospital.
“I know Mike’s heart,” Loeffler said. “So if sharing a little piece of what God gave me … can help Mike continue to be a blessing … why would you want to pass that up?”
A few days after the kidney transplant, Alexander was back at UCSF to handle some unexpected developments. He remains on the road to recovery, trying to build back his strength and stamina. The 6-foot-7 Alexander also wants to regain the 30 pounds lost while on dialysis.
Loeffler, meanwhile, said he’s fully healed.
He missed three Bulldogs men’s basketball games to recover from surgery then returned to the airwaves.
He’s been the primary voice of Fresno State sports broadcasts since 2010, enlightening listeners with his insider knowledge of Fresno State sports and providing eloquent description of game action.
Loeffler also has resumed another one of his passions of playing basketball with his buddies in the mornings.
“I want to thank everybody for their prayers,” Loeffler said. “We felt it in that hospital in San Francisco.
“It was proof again that God’s plans are always better than ours.”