For bride-to-be Kristina Tharp, her big day will forever be linked to one of her worst.
Her close friend and neighbor, Joe, was gravely ill and needed a kidney transplant. Kristina offered to donate one of hers and after a year of testing and preparation, it was time for the transplant. Unfortunately, the surgery was cancelled because Joe’s white blood cell level was too high.
A couple months later, Kristina became pregnant with her son Austin. By the time she gave birth, Joe had received another kidney. But there were problems.
“We just thought, o.k. it's another episode,” said Tharp. “He's going to get better, and he didn't.”
Joe died. But Kristina vowed to keep her promise to Joe and to donate a kidney. Only this time it would be a donation to a stranger.
John Kauffman, Junior, struggling with stage five renal failure, desperately needed a new kidney to survive. He’d been on dialysis for six months.
Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center successfully transplanted Kristina's kidney into John's body. Then they asked these two strangers a simple question: Would they like to meet?
They did meet. And Kristina thought John looked very much like her friend Joe. Another surprise is that it turns out John and Kristina have lived only five minutes from each other their entire lives.
From this life-changing experience, a life-long friendship evolved. John will be a groomsman in Kristina's wedding.
“One of my bridesmaids, Sherry, she was Joe's wife, and I would like him to walk her down the aisle,” said Kristina.
Kristina was not the only one who donated a kidney to save John's life. In order for John to be eligible for the hospital's paired kidney exchange program, John's sister donated her kidney to someone else.