Published: Jan 07, 2013 6:32 PM EST
Updated: Jan 08, 2013 8:51 AM EST

FORT MYERS, Fla.- One Southwest Florida family is starting 2013 with a new lease on life, after a son gave his father the ultimate gift. The two were part of Gulf Coast Medical Center's first laparoscopic kidney transplant. That means smaller incisions and a faster recovery time for the donor.

Four years ago, James Hamm found out he was starting to experience kidney failure, so the family explored the possibility of a transplant.

When they discovered his son Robert was a match, their lives changed forever.

43-year-old Robert says, "we were thrilled. I have another brother and when we found out that only one of us was a match, we were very excited. Initially hoping that we both weren't matches because we'd have to fight to see who would give my dad the kidney." 

He says they did their research, and he didn't think twice about donating his organ to his dad. "It really was a no brainer, I felt like I had a spare and my father needed one."

On December 20, the pair underwent Gulf Coast Medical Center's first laparoscopic kidney transplant. Dr. Barry Blitz performed the surgery on Robert, and says he was the perfect candidate for it.

"He's a great guy, super motivated, made me really excited to want to do his case. He doesn't have to be talked into anything," Dr. Blitz said. He says removing the kidney in a laparoscopic procedure has a much faster recovery time and it's less invasive. He says those facts may help more people become donors.  "Whenever you make a smaller incision, people have less pain. The prior incisions were made on the side of the abdomen, and those are harder."

Robert says he was very interested in the procedure. "It was definitely a surgery I was hoping to have and once I realized they were offering it here, I was really excited about that from a recovery stand point." He was up and walking just hours after the surgery and left the hospital days later. 

For 80-year-old James, the decision to go through with the transplant was not as easy.  "I had sorta mixed emotions about it. I really didn't want to take his, and it took a while to come to that conclusion but everybody in the family wanted to do it, plus my personal doctor," he says.

James always led an active lifestyle, and even went skydiving a few years ago. Father and son used to run marathons together. He says he didn't even know his kidneys were starting to fail, until a doctor told him. James says if he didn't have the transplant, he would have needed to go on dialysis a month later, so the family opted for the procedure before getting to that point.

Of his son, James says, "I say thank God, and he's my hero. I feel like I've got a new life." And Robert adds, "I couldn't be happier, but I could never repay my parents for what they've done for my brother and I. So it was an easy decision."

Both father and son are recovering well from the surgery. Gulf Coast Medical Center is looking forward to performing more laparoscopic kidney transplants in the future. It is the only kidney transplant facility between Tampa and Miami.