MOUNT RAINIER, Wash. - A handful of incredible men and women are making their way up Mount Rainier this weekend as part of the "One Step Closer Climb." The annual event pairs transplant doctors with their patients and together, they scale the more than 14,000 feet.
"Thinking about how I could have been dead now and I'm not. I'm doing all the things I used to do. They gave me back the life I used to have," said Tim O'Brien, 56.
The mountain climbing bug bit O'Brien as a kid. He's summited Mount Rainier 101 times, scaled the Himalayas and hit Alaska's highest peaks.
Just about 4 years ago, right after his 98th climb, O'Brien was diagnosed with kidney disease. Without a transplant, doctors gave him five years to live and told him he would never climb again. Talk about a love story, his wife donated one of her kidneys and O'Brien also gained a new unexpected friend.
"I met Dr. Precht and he came running over and insisted we had to do the transplant right away so I could go on this climb the next year. I said, 'Ok, this is my kind of guy,'" he added.
Dr. Andrew Precht and others on his team at Swedish Medical Center started climbing with their transplant patients six years ago.
"Our mission is to show to the public how transplantation changes lives, not only saves lives but changes lives. To share in these climbs, It’s incredible, it’s the best reward," said Dr. Precht.
The patients train for months, with about two a year making the treck. The oldest patient: Tim O'Brien.
"Five months after surgery I climbed Rainier with the only guy who's seen the insides of my body which was pretty special," he said.
Sunday's Mount Rainier climb will mark their fourth together.
"It's not just a climb, it's the people you climb with," said O'Brien.
It's also those people who make life's summits worth reaching.
They hope this year's climb will inspire more people to sign up to be organ donors. More than $120,000 people nationwide are currently waiting for a transplant.
To research more on how you can join the registry: www.lcnw.org