Facebook friends for life

One needed a kidney, the other just wanted to help

Two women with nearly the same first name live in the same neighborhood. One needs a kidney; the other has a desire to donate.

Sounds like an easy match, if they are medically compatible.

But it took a chance Facebook encounter for the two casual acquaintances to connect in what their surgeon says may represent the future of organ donating.

Sarah Taylor, 53, of Indiana, Pa., suffered from a dissected aorta and an aneurysm 11 years ago, and that led to renal failure. She was placed on a kidney transplant waiting list in 2009, and a year ago this month, she used Facebook to let others know she needed help.

"I had no idea where I was going to get a kidney," she said. "I just thought well, why don't I put it on Facebook and see what I get?"

Ms. Taylor specified that she was looking for someone between the ages of 18 and 64, with type-O blood and no diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity. In a matter of days, she received 197 responses.

"I didn't think I'd get any," she said.

One was from Sara Steelman, 64, a former state representative. Ms. Steelman was a neighbor, living about two blocks away. They casually knew each other through Ms. Taylor's sister, who had worked for Ms. Steelman. They also had participated together in a community theater group.

But Ms. Steelman didn't know that Ms. Taylor needed a kidney until she read about it on Ms. Taylor's Facebook page. She immediately offered one of hers.

"If you saw somebody drowning, you would try to save them," Ms. Steelman said. "This is like that."

Curious about the possibility of donating an organ since reading a magazine article about it, Ms. Steelman said that when she saw the Facebook post, she felt an "instant interest."

Ms. Steelman's previous surgery was as a kid to have her tonsils removed, but she went through countless rounds of tests and procedures before the number of donor candidates was whittled to just one -- her.

Asked whether she feels like she saved Ms. Taylor's life, she says, "That's what they tell me."

Ngoc L. Thai, who helped perform the surgery June 15 at Allegheny General Hospital, said the donor had to be healthy and have a compatible blood type, among other requirements.

The prognosis now is good for both women. Dr. Thai said the unconventional way of finding a donor through Facebook might start a trend.

"I think you can't stop it," he said.

The two women and Dr. Thai held a news conference Monday at AGH to talk about the process. It was impossible to tell that just a few weeks ago they were in hospital beds. Their bright clothing was a far cry from hospital gowns, and both were all smiles, complimenting each other on their appearance.

"What I feel for Sara today is more than I could ever express," Ms. Taylor said. "What do you say about someone who gives you life?"

Although Ms. Taylor feels as though she owes Ms. Steelman her life, Ms. Steelman would never ask for repayment.

"It was something that I wanted to do," she said. "It was something that I was glad to be able to do."

And while Ms. Steelman calls the whole thing a "happy coincidence" that occurred because of Ms. Taylor's initiative, Ms. Taylor said the match was meant to be.

"There weren't any mistakes," Ms. Taylor said. "This happened for a reason."

Meredith Skrzypczak: mskrzypczak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1964. First Published July 13, 2010 4:00 AM


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