Their story sounds like something from a movie.
Two long-lost friends — both with deep ties to Minnesota’s film industry — reconnect after 20 years when one man desperately needs a new kidney and the other man gives him one. Now, Randy Adamsick, 66, and Daniel Appleby, 62, are on a mission to spread the word about the shortage of organ donations in the United States.
And they’re using their filmmaking talents to do it, launching the Organ Donor Advocacy Project to inspire more people to become organ donors. Their soon-to-be-launched campaign will feature celebrities from Los Angeles’ and Minnesota’s music, film and sports communities. It will be aimed at diverse audiences, using social media and sports and concert venues.
“A lot of people will climb a mountain or whatever to challenge themselves. Our idea is save a life,” Appleby said. “You don’t need to join the military to do something heroic. Donate an organ or just check the box on your driver’s license. One box can save up to eight lives.”
Appleby’s call to duty began last year when he spotted Adamsick’s urgent Facebook post.
“I NEED YOUR HELP AND SUPPORT IN THE NEW YEAR,” it read. “I have recently been informed that I will need a kidney transplant and I am seeking a potential donor.”
Adamsick was suffering from polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disease that made receiving a healthy kidney donation from his family unlikely. His health was deteriorating, and he would need to go on dialysis treatment within the year.
The two men hadn’t spoken to each other in 20 years. They met in Minnesota when both were heavily involved in the local film scene. Adamsick was the head of the Minnesota Film Board for many years, including during the 1990s, when the state attracted such high-profile projects as “Fargo” and “Grumpy Old Men.” He now lives in the Chicago area. Appleby is a filmmaker who lives in West St. Paul and Los Angeles.
After seeing his old film buddy’s Facebook plea, Appleby reached out.
“I told him, ‘If no one else steps up, I’ll get tested.’ ” Appleby recalled. A year passed and Adamsick’s health deteriorated. He was about to go on dialysis.
Appleby lived up to his promise to be tested. “I said, ‘Hey, pal, I’ll do it, but don’t get your hopes up because it’s a long shot,’ ” Appleby said, explaining that he might not end up being a match.
The tests revealed otherwise. He was the perfect match. “At that point, I felt I had to do it,” Appleby said.
At the University of Minnesota Medical Center, they watched videos to prepare them for surgery.
“They were horrible, out of date,” Appleby said of the hospital videos. “We were complaining. [The hospital staff] asked, ‘Can you do better?’ That’s how the conversation started.
“Because of the way we consume our media now, the standards are really high. You have to be really clever. You’re competing with commercials that they’ll spend $2 million to $3 million on,” he said. “If you’re not really clever, and you’re not a filmmaker, nobody’s going to watch it. I couldn’t watch it, and I was about to get an operation. It was like, ‘Oh, God, the lighting’s terrible.’ ”
Only 5,500 live kidney donations are performed nationwide each year, and the number is shrinking despite a growing need, Adamsick said.
“Diverse communities are hit especially hard by the deficit. Because of taboos and misinformation, those are the communities that are not stepping up to donate,” Appleby said.
Their surgery was in September, and both men have since recovered. So far, with the exception of one hiccup over Thanksgiving, Adamsick’s new kidney is performing well.
And the two old friends have not only rekindled their friendship, they’ve deepened it.
“We have been turned into something very different,” Adamsick said. “We talk every day. We got to spend some time together in Minneapolis for lunch a few times. We had him over for dinner.
“We will have this amazing bond.”