CHICAGO (WLS) --A group of organ donors and recipients met for the first time Wednesday at a Chicago hospital. They all were part of a unique kidney transplant surgery.
It was a remarkable sight: a roomful of people whose lives have been saved meeting the people who gave them that gift of life. And to think, this was all possible because of one generous and loving local man.
You could call it the ultimate "love connection." Most of the people gathered at Northwestern at one time either needed a kidney or wanted to donate to someone else, but for various reasons they're weren't compatible with the person they'd initially hoped to be matched with. That's when a program within the Northwestern Transplant Team sprang into action.
"It's a match-making program. We find matches for incompatible pairs and then match them up with another pair with who they are compatible and allow the transplants to happen," said Dr. John Friedewald, a Northwestern Medicine nephrologist.
In this case, six kidney donation pairs were matched, and 12 people underwent kidney transplant surgery within two days. It was sort of a domino donation started by Jim Wielgos, who simply wanted to help people.
"I just felt like I'd been very fortunate that I've never spent a night in a hospital before with my health and this was a very tactile kind of tangible way to pay it forward to another person," Wielgos said.
That other person was Laura Seger, who's been living with diabetes for 50 years. Her relatives were not a match, but Jim was. They met for the first time on Wednesday.
"When you're on that dialysis machine, I call it the electric chair, when you're on that you just don't know when the end is coming and when you're going to get help. And all of a sudden, I got the call and you are like elated. You get to go back and get you own life back again," Seger said.
The way it works is that Laura's non-compatible family member was able to donate to another person and so on, and so on. Six lives were saved, all because of Jim's decision to help someone he didn't even know.
"It's only been a month tomorrow since this happened and I feel great and I would encourage other people to do it," Weilgos said.
Jim says he tried to donate a kidney years ago to help out his sister-in-law, but they were not a match. That planted the seed in his mind to one day try and help someone if he was able to. He never forgot that promise he made to himself.