GASTONIA — A Gastonia Police officer gave part of himself to save others.
He did so literally. Twice.
Zachary Lechette was an agent with the State Bureau of Investigation in 2015 when a co-worker's daughter needed a kidney. The young girl was too ill to receive the organ by the time she found a donor, and later died.
Lechette used the tragedy as an opportunity to help others. In June 2015 at Duke University Hospital, he donated a kidney to a man he had never met.
"This just seemed like a logical step," he said. "If I had two kidneys, I knew one was a spare. If I can live healthy with one, I'll help someone out. Why not?"
Lechette calls himself a "research guy." He looked into the risks involved with such a transplant and consulted his wife, a critical care nurse.
Through his studying, he found that people with failing kidneys spend hours and days on a dialysis machine, their quality of life suffering while they wait for a match.
The man who received Lechette's left kidney had a similar story.
"The person who needed the kidney donation was on dialysis for a long time," he said. "It's not really a way to live."
Lechette assumed he was done with organ donation until he saw a commercial from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's living-donor program.
Having already given a kidney, this time he chose to give a part of his liver.
"There's a big disconnect between kidney donors and liver donors," he said. "There's a bridge a lot of times for kidney recipients because of dialysis. Those who need a liver donation tend to have a limited time before they get too sick."
Lechette had his surgery in March. Surgeons removed 60 percent of his liver, and the operation was much more extensive than his kidney donation.
Still, he returned to work within nine weeks.
The donations afforded Lechette an opportunity to meet the recipients and their families. In each case, the encounter brought the officer to tears.
"It was very emotional meeting both families," he said. "It wasn't just the recipient. It was the families. It was hard to find the words."
Lechette said he's done with organ donation now, but he has come public with his story in hopes that others would follow suit.
There were more than 113,000 people on the national transplant list, and 20 people die each day waiting for a transplant, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration. Every 10 minutes, someone is added to the waiting list, and only 3 in 1,000 die in a way that allows them to donate.
"Through the research and studies that have been done, the work up to surgery is so thorough that if you're healthy enough to donate, it's not going to impact your life to donate," he said.
Lechette works with no physical restrictions after the two surgeries. He is one of four Gastonia Police officers to drive a motorcycle for the agency's traffic enforcement team.