(NEW YORK) — When doctors told a Georgia woman that her husband would likely die if he did not receive a kidney transplant, she turned to social media and made it her mission to find an eligible donor for him.
Over the years she has connected recipients in need of kidneys with donors from across the country, saving at least 23 lives since she started this endeavor.
ABC News’ Good Morning America honored the work of Kristi Callaway as part of its “We are GMA: 50 Hearts in 50 States” campaign, celebrating ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things for their communities.
More than 26 million Americans are affected by kidney disease, and most don’t even know they have it, according to the National Kidney Foundation. When someone’s kidneys fail, they will either need a transplant or to go on dialysis just to stay alive.
In 2014, Callaway used Facebook as a means of reaching out to her community after she found out that her husband’s kidneys were failing to the point that it could become fatal if he did not receive a transplant.
“I explained to Kristi that I didn’t know what to do,” Raleigh Callaway, a longtime police officer for the Greensboro Police Department, told ABC News. “She said, ‘Baby, we’re going to find you a kidney.'”
Kathryn Sorrells, Kristi Callaway’s mother, described how she leaped into action.
“She decided that she would…have a picture taken of her and Raleigh and the girls, with a sign that says ‘Our Daddy needs a kidney,'” Sorrells said.
The photo went viral, and eventually the Facebook post helped connect Raleigh Callaway with a kidney donor — a total stranger who lived 900 miles away.
Even after her husband found a kidney, Kristi Callaway continued her mission of supporting organ donations and helping to connect individuals in desperate need of a kidney with donors from across the country.
“It’s a big need, I mean there’s over a hundred thousand people waiting for a kidney transplant,” Kristi Callaway said when asked what made her continue her efforts. “So to have that kind of following…you know to have that kind of platform and not use it, just seemed like a waste.”
Kristi Callaway’s social media pleas, which put a face and story to families desperately in need of a kidney donation, have saved 23 lives so far.
“We didn’t know it was going to do what it’s done,” Raleigh Callaway said. “It just touches my heart.”
One person whose life Kristi Callaway helped save is Bret Reiff, 58, from Atlanta, who found a kidney donor, Carley Teat, 23, from Easley, South Carolina, through Callaway’s Facebook page.
“Carley messaged my wife on Facebook and said she was a match for me,” Reiff said.
Teat added that she has now formed a close bond with the family of the man whose life she helped save.
“They call me their donor daughter, I call him my donor Dad,” Teat said. “We go to camping trips, they came to my graduation last year, we’re really close.”
Reiff added, “We love her, she’s like the daughter we never had…but it’s all due to Kristi.”
Raleigh Callaway said he thanks his wife every morning for everything she has done.
ABC News’ Rob Marciano surprised Kristi Callaway, bringing along over 20 of the kidney donors and recipients who were matched through her extraordinary work. RetailMeNot also surprised Callaway by donating $10,000 to the National Kidney Foundation in her name.
“I don’t have words…blessed and thankful,” Kristi Callaway said of the surprise. “I know that that money is going to be put to the absolute best use and is needed.”
One of Kristi Callaway’s most recent cases that she has taken on is finding a kidney for James “Randy” Daniel, of Jonesboro, Georgia. Pat Daniel told ABC News that her husband was born with polycystic kidney disease, and had to have his first surgery at age 16. Pat Daniel said that her husband will have been on the waiting list for a kidney for 10 years this May, and he is still waiting to find a match.
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