She'd Already Made End-Of-Life Plans. Then A Complete Stranger Stepped Up To Help.

“I’m looking forward to all of 2018. I have a lot I want to do.”

When San Francisco Police Officer Anna Cuthbertson logged on to the website Matching Donors last year, she was stunned by how many people were in need of organs, especially in the Bay Area. She likely had no idea she'd soon save the life of a woman nearly three decades her senior through an incredible chain of events.


Cuthbertson, 36, had heard an organ donation story on a podcast not long prior, and she was inspired. After some research, she decided she would donate one of her kidneys. She soon found the Matching Donors site, which connects prospective donors with prospective recipients.

"It looks like personal ads," Cuthbertson told CNN. "People that need different body parts, kidneys being the primary request, and everybody puts up a page. They tell you about themselves, how they ended up in a position where they need an organ."

She welled up with emotion during the CNN interview when she thought of the overwhelming need: "There were so many people that just needed somebody to step forward so they can live."

Indeed, more than 116,000 people are currently waiting for a lifesaving transplant, the United Network for Organ Sharing reports, and 20 people on that waitlist die each day. Kidney transplants are the most common, and as Cuthbertson told CNN, they're comparatively easy for the donors.

"If you're healthy, it's not as big of a deal as people think it is," she said. "I started doing research about the risk, long-term health risk, how much time it takes. And the more I looked into it, the more I realized that there wasn't a reason not to."

Soon after joining the site, the cop and Army vet connected with Joan Grealis, a 65-year-old woman living with kidney disease. Grealis was diagnosed with hyperoxaluria, or oxalate crystals in both kidneys, a result of a surgery four decades ago. Grealis thought her days were numbered. She even made cremation plans during the five years she was on the waitlist.

At the advice of someone her support group, Grealis registered herself on Matching Donors. "I was concerned because I'm older and it's like, 'Who's going to want to help me?' " she told CNN. "And to my amazement, within an hour, Anna called me."

Months later, the two women found out they were not a match, as local news affiliate KTVU reports. But Cuthbertson's kidney was a match for another person, setting off a chain reaction involving nine kidney recipients in total, Grealis included.

"I thought, the more the merrier. I was thrilled," Cuthbertson said in an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle in November, two days after her operation.

"If I could highlight one thing about all of this, it's that it's so easy," she told the newspaper. "If people just did more research about it, they could really help save a life."

Grealis, who got her kidney from an anonymous man in Southern California as part of the kidney chain, is already feeling better. She has more energy, she can get through a day without a nap, and she no longer feels pain in her legs.

"I'm looking forward to all of 2018," she told CNN. "I have a lot I want to do."


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