When Stanley Galvin resolved last spring to donate his kidney to someone he didn’t know, he had no idea what he had begun.

That stranger wound up being James McLaughlin, triggering a chain reaction of donations that resulted in three Maine residents receiving new kidneys, all from people they’d never met. The transplants were all done during a 15-hour, six-surgery marathon Nov. 4 at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

Doctors Juan Palma and James Whiting started the surgeries at 6 a.m. and didn’t finish until 9 p.m. Palma performed surgeries on the donors, and Whiting worked on the recipients. About 50 doctors, nurses and other medical professionals assisted.

It was the first time in Maine that so many kidney transplants were done at a single hospital in one day, made possible by a Maine Med program that matches people willing to donate a kidney while they’re still alive with those in need of one.

Besides the donation by Galvin, of Pemaquid, to McLaughlin, of Scarborough, McLaughlin’s wife, Mary Ann, donated a kidney to Jan Bohlin of Harpswell, and Bohlin’s friend George “Kenny” Shepard of Pittston donated to Richard Cook of Hermon.

The three donors and three recipients finally met Monday.

“I don’t understand why you did this, Stanley. Why?” Mary Ann McLaughlin asked Galvin.

The question dangled in the air while Galvin paused, contemplating an answer.

“I’m just going to say, ‘Because,’ ” Galvin said, a mischievous smile brightening his face.

McLaughlin arched her eyebrows and seemed befuddled at Galvin’s lack of a motive, other than altruism.

“I can’t imagine,” McLaughin said, before concluding, “You’re a great guy, Stanley, a great guy.”

“I don’t know if we’ll become friends, but I’ll probably send (Galvin) a Christmas card,” James McLaughlin, 75, said with a laugh.

There were no tears, hugs or outward signs of emotion as the six donors and recipients met, but they all talked about how they were motivated to help friends or family – or, in Galvin’s case, just someone in need.

PROGRAM A ‘MATCH.COM FOR KIDNEYS’

The program works by matching donors willing to give up a kidney with people who need one, even if the two people aren’t related or even acquainted. Kidney donors can live normal lives with their one remaining kidney.

Mary Ann McLaughlin would have donated to her husband, but their kidneys were not a match. In the past, that would have been a dead end, and James would have likely had to wait years for another donated organ, probably from someone who died.

But increasingly, through the paired donation program at Maine Med and similar programs across the country, live donors can be matched with recipients – Maine Med doctors described the system as a “Match.com for kidneys.”

Nationally, such donations have grown from a few dozen annually to more than 400 per year, and that number is increasing as the medical community realizes their effectiveness, Palma said.

“This was right before our eyes the whole time,” Palma said. “You don’t have to be a match with a relative or a friend to help. If you’re willing and healthy, you can be a live donor.”

JUST SAW A NEED AND DECIDED TO HELP

Galvin, who moved to Pemaquid on a whim with his wife four years ago, said he couldn’t pinpoint why he wanted to donate a kidney to a stranger, other than having read about the huge need for kidney donors.

He’s not a philanthropist, he said, not the type to join Knights of Columbus, Rotary Club, Habitat for Humanity or United Way.

“I’m not a joiner. Not that I have anything against those organizations, but they just don’t interest me,” Galvin said. He doesn’t know anyone who has kidney disease, and no one in his family has suffered from dysfunctional kidneys.

But Galvin, a retired Washington prison official who now raises goats, llamas, sheep and ducks, said that after reading about altruistic kidney donors two years ago, he knew it was what he wanted to do. Several months ago, a television report about a donor and recipient running a race together spurred him into action.

“I saw it on TV, made the decision, and that was it,” said Galvin, 67.

Galvin said he called Maine Med in late spring, filled out numerous forms and passed some medical tests, and by fall had been cleared to donate.

A few weeks before the surgery, transplant coordinators told him that it was a go, and it was only then that he told his four children what he was planning to do.

“I told them that I was going to donate a kidney, and that I would listen to their opinion but it was something I had to do and I wasn’t changing my mind,” Galvin said. “They told me I was so compassionate, that I had a big heart, and I didn’t get a single negative response. That surprised me.”

ONE BEST FRIEND’S GIFT TO ANOTHER

For Jan Bohlin, a matter-of-fact talk last winter over lunch with his best friend Kenny Shepard resulted in Shepard offering to donate his kidney. Shepard was not a match for Bohlin, but his willingness to donate through the program led to Bohlin, 65, receiving a kidney from Mary Ann McLaughlin.

“Kenny told me, ‘I don’t know how to say this, but I’m just going to say it: ‘You need a kidney donor, and I’m it,’ ” Bohlin said, recalling their lunch at the Sea Dog restaurant in Topsham.

“It was a good lunch. I might have picked up the tab,” Bohlin said, laughing.

Shepard, 63, of Pittston, said it was the right thing to do.

“I was happy to do it, and we’ve been friends for 50 years. Why not?” he said.

Shepard’s kidney in turn went to Richard Cook, 72, a retired University of Maine professor.

Cook said he had suffered some heart problems this spring, and thought it would jeopardize his chances of receiving a new kidney. But this fall, tests proved his heart was in good condition, and he was back in the program.

“It happened all at once, it was like, ‘Boom, there’s a live donor and here we go,’ ” Cook said. “It’s a fantastic thing.”

GIFT MAKES NEW THINGS POSSIBLE

The McLaughlins say they can look forward to more years of James being able to hike with Mary Ann, an avid hiker who has bagged Mount Kilimanjaro and many New England peaks.

“The last thing I wanted to do was go on dialysis,” said James McLaughlin, who probably would have ended up on the machines if not for Galvin’s kidney.

He said Galvin is “unbelievable.”

“You can’t express the proper appreciation you have for someone who’s so unselfish,” McLaughlin said. “Physically, emotionally and mentally, I feel great.”

Galvin, meanwhile, said he looks forward to a Maine retirement filled with kayaking, bicycling and hiking.

“I know I made the right decision,” he said.