The Giver

On May 18, David Raatz donated one-third of his liver to a child he’ll probably never meet...
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Maui County attorney David Raatz gave the gift of life with an anonymous liver donation—and he wants you to consider doing the same

On May 18, David Raatz donated one-third of his liver to a child he’ll probably never meet. 

Raatz is the deputy director of Maui County’s Office of Council Services. He’s soft-spoken, unassuming, and hesitant to sing his own praises. So allow us to sing them for him.

Raatzʻs procedure was performed at USCʻs Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles. Courtesy David Raatz

He let a surgeon at USC’s Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles make a drastically large “L”-shaped incision in his abdomen, remove a significant part of a vital organ, and give it to a total stranger. Why would anyone do that?

He shrugs and smiles. “Because I could.”

Raatz was inspired via Twitter by civil- and animal-rights lawyer Matthew Strugar. Like Raatz, Strugar is a longtime vegan. He’s also a living kidney donor.

“He said it was an effective form of altruism, and he encouraged other people to apply,” Raatz recalled. “So that’s exactly what I did.”

Initially, Raatz was rejected as a kidney donor. He passed an array of tests on Maui, but after flying to Oahu’s Queen’s hospital for a final round of testing, he fell just short of the required kidney-function level.

“I was pretty devastated,” he said. “I hadn’t realized until that moment how committed I was to becoming a living organ donor. I immediately went online to see what my options were.”

What he discovered was that some people who are turned away as kidney donors can still give part of their liver. He found out Hawai’i hospitals don’t do liver transplants but, undeterred, turned his sights to the U.S. Mainland.

After jumping through more medical hoops, he was approved for donation and connected anonymously with a child in need of a liver. 

Raatz accepts a hero award from Leilani Farm Sanctuary. Courtesy Laurelee Blanchard

Raatz said the surgery, while obviously significant, went smoothly and that he was on his feet in relatively short order with the help of family and friends who cared for his cats, checked him out of the hospital, and assisted him during the recovery process. 

“I couldn’t lift more than ten pounds at first, but I was back playing tennis in two months,” he said. “Because they screen you so effectively and because these facilities are so sophisticated and well-run, there’s very little risk to the donor, but there’s great benefit to the recipient. I just couldn’t think of any reason I wouldn’t want to do it.”

Most organs come from deceased donors, but there is a perpetual shortage. Many people die on waiting lists. According to the non-profit United Network for Organ Sharing, more than 6,500 people became living organ donors in 2021. It is against U.S. law to charge for a donated organ, but public or private insurance generally covers medical costs. Additional expenses such as travel and lost wages may be covered by organizations such as the National Living Donor Assistance Center. 

In the end, though, it’s obviously—quite literally—a pure act of giving, whether you’re doing it for a family member or a stranger.

Which begs the question: Does Raatz have any desire to see or at least learn about the child whose life he might have saved?

“Honestly, no,” he said. “They did tell me the procedure went well, which was gratifying and kind of them to do. Technically I think they shouldn’t have told me. It’s supposed to be anonymous.”

Raatz seems content with the idea that a part of his body is helping someone who will never be able to thank him. He speaks about the whole affair calmly and contemplatively. And he sums it up with one word: “humbling.”

For a man who doesn’t want his praises sung, that’s fitting.

Resources for becoming a living organ donor:

United Network for Organ Sharing: Unos.org

American Transplant Foundation: Americantransplantfoundation.org

National Living Donor Assistance Center: Livingdonorassistance.org

Jacob Shafer

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