Navy SEAL Donates Liver to Stranger Across the Country: 'That Was a No-Brainer for Me'

Melinda Ray, a 35-year-old mother-of-three from Colorado, would have died without the organ donation.

This California man may no longer be an active duty Navy SEAL, but saving lives remains his mission.

Jeff Bramstedt 47, of San Diego, did not hesitate to offer his liver when he heard a stranger in Colorado would die of a genetic disease if she didn’t receive the organ donation.

“It’s not okay for someone to die if you don’t step up," Bramstedt told UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, where the transplant took place. "That was a no-brainer to me. There are very few things more noble that an average person can do to make a difference.”

Melinda Ray, a 35-year-old mother-of-three from Centennial, was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease when she was just 20 years old. Although doctors didn’t think the genetic condition would affect her for decades, it was in January 2017 that cysts caused by the disease spread to her liver and began growing rapidly, crushing her other organs.

"My lung has collapsed and both are slowly closing up. My heart is literally lying on my liver and being pushed up into my sternum," Ray explained in a public appeal posted to Facebook. "The worry is how long until they stop working? How long until things start shutting down?"

Bramstedt’s wife, Robin Infeldt, came across the public post on Facebook, and brought it up to her husband.

Immediately, Bramstedt responded, "I’ll do it.”

He underwent the tests and discovered he was a match for Ray. He and Infeldt then traveled to Colorado to deliver the good news in person.

“I just couldn’t let him go,” Ray said. “Just being able to feel this guy who would do this for me, I immediately loved this person. It’s like having a family member in a split-second that you love completely.”

Bramstedt, who was adopted, said he felt fate brought them together when he learned Ray and her husband also adopted their eldest son, 17-year-old Callum.

“My parents saved my life by adopting me," Bramstedt said. "I wouldn’t have made it to 30 without them stepping up to the plate. When I learned that James and Melinda had adopted their oldest, it made me feel as though I was paying it forward. My parents mean the world to me. They made me who I am today."

The pair underwent the transplant in the beginning of December, in which Bramstedt donated 30 percent of his liver to Ray. Since the liver has the ability to regenerate, doctors expect the liver to thrive and grow within Ray's body. Both are recovering well.

Bramstedt, who is also a skydiving instructor and Hollywood stuntman, was told it will be several more weeks before he could return to his physical lifestyle, but his decision to donate saved Ray’s life.

“It gave me great hope in humanity and also hope that I could be a mom and a wife,” Ray said. “The fact that someone would put their life on hold for me and stop their life to save mine, it meant everything to me. It was the greatest relief I’d ever felt.”

According to UCHealth, approximately 14,000 people in the U.S. need liver transplants every year, with only half receiving a transplant.

To find out more about living organ donation, visit UCHealth's website.