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Man gives new life to girlfriend's mother — by donating his kidney

Think about the nicest thing you’ve done for your significant other’s parents.

Dana Henderson can likely top it.

On Tuesday, he gave new life to his girlfriend’s mother — by giving her his kidney. Karen Karsen, 61, suffers from polycystic kidney disease, a disorder that affects 1 in 500 people. Her mother had it too, as did her mother’s mother.

Dana Henderson
Lauren Karsen with boyfriend Dana Henderson and mom Karen Karsen

Karen’s daughter Lauren, a records clerk for the Summit, New Jersey, police department, doesn’t have it, but her other daughter does, and will likely need Lauren’s kidney one day.

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So when two other non-family donors fell through, Henderson, a nursing student and Lauren’s boyfriend of just over a year, stepped up.

“I just think about what if it were my mom? My mom has saved my life on more than one occasion,” he said. “I don’t know how you don’t do it.”

The bond between Henderson, 33, and Lauren, 35, is strong, as is the bond Henderson has with Lauren’s 7-year-old son, Jayden.

Dana Henderson
Lauren's son, Jayden Karsen

“We are in it for the long haul,” said Henderson. “(Jayden) is a big part of my wanting to do this. He’s so in love with his grandma and I still to this day have such a close relationship with my own grandma. He just needs her in his life. I just think that’s so important.”

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That sentiment brings Lauren to tears.

“He’s an amazing person,” she said. “He really is. I can’t believe he’s doing this, but at the same time just knowing him for the time I’ve known him, I’m not surprised because he’s just that kind of guy.”

Dana Henderson

TODAY.com heard about Henderson’s story when a family member sent it in as part of the Season of Kindness, 40 days of celebrating kind acts, big or small.

Polycystic kidney disease is a chronic condition that can’t be cured. PKD causes cysts to grow on the kidneys, and a parent with the disease has a 50 percent chance of passing it on to a child. Sufferers may have high blood pressure, cysts that spread to other organs like the liver, and, eventually, kidney failure.

RELATED: North Carolina man who donates kidney saves own life in the process

Karen Karsen, though healthy by all other accounts, is “four to five months” away from needing dialysis, Henderson said.

Though the choice to donate is a no-brainer for Henderson, his decision has raised eyebrows among friends and family.

“I’m well aware of the fact that donating to anybody outside your immediate family is rare, but it’s also controversial — because everyone has an opinion,” said Henderson.

“I hope you don’t have kids,” people have told him, and, “I hope your kid doesn’t need one.”

But Henderson, who grew up in Summit and lives nearby in Somerset, has let the well intentioned concerns roll off his back.

RELATED: Mom's long journey for new kidney ends with donation from stranger

Because of his job in a physically demanding emergency room, he’ll be out of work until January. The surgery is laparoscopic, and doctors have said he’ll be back to driving a car in seven days. When a kidney is removed, the remaining kidney grows in size to make up for the missing organ.

As with any medical procedure, the bills will be high. So the family set up a GoFundMe page to help offset costs. Donors have ranged from close friends to mild acquaintances. Henderson’s originally asked for $1,500; the total had reached just over $6,000 by Tuesday.

One recent donation came from a stranger, whose best friend had an autoimmune disease that led to kidney failure. “I went through the donor process too and I was a match!” She wrote along with her $20 donation. “I just wanted to let you know that it’s awesome what you decided to do.”

RELATED: Dad's gift of kidney for son is testament to fatherly love

Lauren Karsen shares that sentiment.

“It’s almost hard to put into words,” she said. “I’ve never been in a situation where anyone I’ve ever known has done something like this for me or done something like this for my family.

“We are eternally grateful.”

This story is part of NBCU’s Season of Kindness. Follow the series on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. #ShareKindness

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