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When newer actors ask me about the value of serving as an extra, I don’t share all the pros and cons about background work. I have a specific story to share with them. It starts with a trip from Houston to Wimberley, Texas to work on a feature film. It ends with a successful kidney transplant. Yes, you read that right.

In September 2008, many Houstonians were dealing with damage and power outage caused by Hurricane Ike. I managed to book a featured extra role on a film during that time and drove a few hours to get to the shoot.  I expected to shoot my scenes and drive straight back the same day. Instead, I would stay another day thanks to making the acquaintance of an actor on set from the Houston area.

This actor said he would be working as an extra on Friday Night Lights the following day, and asked if I was interested in doing the same. I was. So he put me in touch with extras casting and soon I was booked to work on a church scene the next day in Austin.

When we arrived at the church the following day, the second A.D. paired people in pairs as married couples or in groups as families. He paired me with a charming Austin actress and we chatted for awhile before being moved to the set. When we stood up, I immediately noticed how she towered over me. I called the second A.D. over and he paired us with new people. But upon being wrapped later, I saw the tall actress again in the parking lot, talking to the actor who helped me book the gig, and we said our goodbyes.

In the coming months, I stayed in touch with her. The following summer, June 2009, I invited her to come to Houston to work on a 48 Hour Film Project with me and the team I was working with. She accepted and came to town to write and act in a short called Happy Father’s Day. She met the Executive Producer of that team, a sweet woman who works full-time in the oil & gas industry. That meeting would set in motion the events to follow.

The Austin actress would make more visits to Houston to work on shoots with the group. As her relationship with members of the group quickly strengthened, she discovered a medical situation facing the Executive Producer, who needed a new kidney. Now, keep in mind, these two only met a matter of months before.

The decision to donate a kidney didn’t seem to take long, as I recall. What took longer, it seems, was the process to make sure the organ would be a match. As you can figure out, it was a match and surgery was scheduled.

Many members of our film group gathered to have a going away party for our friend’s kidney. Her selfless act inspired and moved us, of course. Less than 9 months after she first met the Executive Producer, she would be giving this woman-in-need a kidney.

Five years ago today, March 5, 2010, that surgery occurred. I had the pleasure of spending time with my friend, the organ donor, yesterday as we met with our film group’s director. It was a bittersweet meeting, prompted by the loss of another film group member whose funeral is in two days. But it reminded me of how a chance meeting on a set in Austin so many years ago made something significant possible. It brought someone special into our world, someone who changed the life of her recipient and each one of us as we witnessed what’s possible when you’re filled with a spirit of generosity and lots of love.

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