MAHOPAC, N.Y. - A story like this will stop you in your tracks and make you contemplate the power of the human spirit, where, in a selfless act of kindness, a man reaches out to save the life of someone he does not know. It is also a testament to the power of social media.
Mahopac resident Mike Cameron, who grew up in the Bronx, said his life changed sometime before the pandemic, on a day when he was randomly scrolling through his Facebook feed and came across a plea from a man named Vlad. The post described a seven-year fight against kidney disease and made a desperate appeal for a kidney donor. The 42-year-old Cameron was struck by an urge to help and decided to reach out.
“I just got some kind of weird feeling that I was supposed to do it—it was strange,” he said.
In California, Vladimir Harkovski was fielding responses from people who had seen the social media campaign that he launched in 2019, using various platforms to spread his story—and was hoping to find a willing, compatible donor who could potentially save his life. Although Harkovski did receive dozens of replies, it was Cameron who actually began to take the next steps of getting assessed to go through with the organ donation.
“I was actually really serious about doing it; though everything got postponed because of coronavirus and then I finally got a call [from the hospital] and began the bloodwork,” Cameron said.
Time is of the essence, given Harkovski’s disease. The 45-year-old entrepreneur had been diagnosed in 2012 with an autoimmune disease called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), in which scar tissue develops on the parts of the kidneys that filter waste from the blood. According to the National Kidney Foundation, there are currently over 100,000 people awaiting a kidney transplant in the U.S., with a median waiting time of 3.6 years. After years of different treatments, Harkovski’s kidneys stopped working and he is relying on the temporary solution of dialysis.
“I am on the waiting list for a deceased donor,” he said. “But meanwhile, I am looking for a living donor, where the quality is much better.”
Cameron, who has a young daughter and has worked as a boxing manager, then received the news that he is not, in fact, a match for Vladimir Horkovski. To his surprise, however, he was asked to participate in what is known as a “kidney swap,” which occurs when a donor is incompatible with an intended recipient but matches another person on the waitlist. By increasing the donor pool, more opportunity for matches are made—and he readily agreed to participate.
“Basically, I am going to be saving two people. At the same time there is someone who needs my kidney—and that person would have someone who is willing to donate his kidney,” he explained.
Now in the process of getting medical clearances and even losing 50 pounds to get in shape, Cameron is poised to give the gift of life that will impact a circle of people in need, including Horkovski. With a new kidney from a live donor, a recipient’s life can be extended 15 to 20 years, and in some cases even longer. Horkovski noted, however, that while he is hopeful for this swap, he would like any willing individual donors (with an O+ blood type) to contact him in the meantime.
To cover expenses, Cameron has set up a GoFundMe page, for things like transportation to Manhattan and lost wages during the process; costs that will increase once he gets the green-light for surgery and then the recovery period that will follow.
The two men, who have never met, share the joy of fatherhood: Cameron said that upon learning that Horkovski is dad to a young son and has three stepdaughters, he was moved to act.
“That’s what really made me do it,” he said.
To the “stranger” in California, Cameron is someone who was sent to him in a miraculous way.
“There is my mother who gave me life, there is God who gave life to everyone, and there’s Michael who came into my life and decided to give me a second chance,” Horkovski said. “He has a golden heart.”