Ralph and Justin Moriarty

Fathers and sons tend to bond over “guy stuff” such as sporting events, golf outings, fishing expeditions and hunting trips. Although 71-year-old Ralph Moriarty and his 37-year-old son, Justin, built a strong relationship over the decades by doing the expected father-son guy stuff, they also forged an unbreakable bond with the unexpected: a kidney transplant.

Last November, as the father-son duo celebrated the second anniversary of Ralph receiving the most priceless gift possible from a son—a much-needed kidney, they also reflected on a medical miracle and the power of gratitude.

“I hadn’t felt well for a long, long time,” says Ralph, a retired electrician who lives in Sedalia with Peggy, his wife of 46 years. “My doctors finally pinned my illness to my kidneys, and told me dialysis was the key to my survival.”

After experiencing the rigors of receiving dialysis over an eight-month period—three to four times a week for an average of nearly four hours per session—Ralph asked to be put on a kidney transplant list.

“Even though the dialysis was eventually a routine and a habit so I could stay alive, it was physically and emotionally difficult,” says Ralph, who grew frustrated with the fatigue and other side effects caused by the dialysis which led him to consulting with his physician on the specifics of a kidney transplant.

But the wait list for a new kidney was long, and Ralph didn’t know if he could endure the dialysis.

It was during the excruciating wait that, according to Ralph, the miracle began.

Ralph’s youngest child, Justin, told his dad that he wanted to go through the kidney donor match test. “Blood work and an MRI revealed that my kidneys were healthy and sufficient for what Dad needed,” says Justin, who, like his father, is a union electrician. “The surgery was set for November 11, 2009, at Research Medical Center.”

Dan Murillo, MD, at the RMC Transplant Institute was the surgeon for both Moriartys on that November morning, and father and son say his compassionate and down-to-earth nature resonated with them. “You want a doctor you can relate to,” says Ralph. “This was a monumental event in our lives, and he treated me and Justin and our family so well.”

Justin’s kidney took instantly with Ralph. “He was a perfect match,” says Ralph. “I received the gift of life from my son.”

Today, Ralph is the healthiest he’s been in a decade, and cherishes the time he spends with his wife Peggy, his children—including Justin—and his grandchildren.

Justin admits that, prior to donating a kidney to his father, he had never considered organ donation. “When I went to the license bureau to renew my driver’s license, I never checked the organ donor box,” he says. “Now I do—and I insist that everyone around me knows the importance of that decision. You never know when you’re going to need something, like my dad.”

Sedalia was battered by a fierce tornado in May 2011, nearly two years following the transplant. Ralph and Peggy’s home was severely damaged by the storm but the elder Moriarty’s excellent health allowed him to supervise the crew that spent two months rebuilding. In addition, Justin and Ralph are working on a renovation project together that is perhaps symbolic of the landmark event that took place in their lives on November 11, 2009.

“All my life I’ve loved to restore old cars,” says Ralph, who has brought three cars back to life. “Justin and I are working on a 1932 Ford Roadster.”

When that project is complete and the car is shiny and rebuilt, the two men responsible for reviving a broken-down automobile will undoubtedly step back from their labor of love and consider the power of collaboration—and second chances.

“We all love our dad so much, that knowing we’re going to spend many more years with him is just incredible,” says Justin quietly. “My kidney gave my dad a second chance at life.”