Giving up a kidney for a family member or loved one is considered one of the most selfless things a person could do. But giving up your kidney for a complete stranger, that takes someone truly special.
Christine Graf has spent decades saving lives as a south suburban Chicago firefighter and paramedic. But it wasn't until her own friend and colleague collapsed on the floor at work at the young age of 29, that it hit her just how fragile life can be.
"I performed CPR on him. And unfortunately he didn't make it, which had a huge impact on me," she says.
Her friend Aaron was diabetic and had serious kidney issues. She knew she couldn't bring him back but she also couldn't shake the feeling that there was something she 'could' do.
Christine started researching what it would take to become a kidney donor. Six months of health checks, blood work and waiting, she finally heard back.
“They called and said they had a match,” she says." I know very little about her so far. I just know she's from Florida and that she was on the list for a long time."
Christine was told the woman she was donating her kidney to had been waiting on the national registry for eight years. She knew from her research that most who wait over even five years don't make it. It makes her anonymous gift that much more rewarding.
“I was just overjoyed and blessed that I was able to give somebody the gift of life."
In the weeks leading up to surgery, Christine and her husband raised as much money as possible through a GoFundMe account to help offset the costs of others willing to donate.
Last week, she traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester where she donated not only her kidney but thousands of dollars to the Living Donor program.
Her surgery was at 5 a.m. It was flown from Minnesota to Florida within hours and that afternoon it went into the body of a woman whose name Christine doesn't even know. It prompted hundreds of strangers to send cards to Christine thanking her for what she did.
"Cards came in from Texas, Georgia - all over the United States," she says.
The best part for Christine was that wasn't the end of the story, but another beginning. With her donation, another person moves to the top of the list and inspires those who weren't matches for their loved ones to donate to someone else in need.
Last year nearly 6000 transplants were made possible because someone like Christine decided to give a piece of herself so another could live. It sounds like a huge number, but even today there are 118,000 people on the donor list who worry they will never get the call that it's their turn.
More information at www.donors1.org