YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Forbes Magazine once called Youngstown, Ohio "one of the fastest dying cities in the nation" because of its huge loss of manufacturing jobs.
But the Rust Belt city has given birth to an incredible story of sacrifice between two strangers: Jason Evans, 29, and Kimberly Smith, 54.
"I have a great mom but I really feel like I gained another mother through this," Jason said. "We have a special connection."
There is an unbreakable bond between the husband and father of three and the single mother who has adopted four children and helped to raise 28 foster children. It is a miracle connection that began in August at Victory Christian Center Church when Pastor David Thomas made an unusual alter call.
The Unique Altar Call
"Kimberly needs a kidney transplant," Pastor Thomas announced to his congregation of more than a thousand people.
He then prayed for Kimberly, who is also an ordained minister.
"There may be somebody in this service or somebody watching on the Internet," he told his members. "God is going to speak to you."
It's been five months since he made the unique altar call. Pastor Thomas said that only one thing prompted his call for a kidney for Kimberly, who has attended Victory Christian Center for 30 years.
"Really, desperation," he said. "Kimberly was at a point of desperation. We needed to get the news out every way that we could."
Facing the Odds
Kimberly had advanced diabetes and high blood pressure, which caused her kidneys to fail. In three years, her doctor at The Cleveland Clinic performed 38 surgical procedures to administer dialysis.
"I had to get a transplant or that was it," Kimberly told CBN News. "My immediate family, my sister couldn't donate because she is a diabetic. And my brother has high blood pressure. So, I only have two siblings."
Dr. Charles Modlin placed Kimberly on priority lists for a kidney donor in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. More than 70 people receive an organ transplant every day, but 17 people die each day waiting for transplants because of a shortage of donations.
Anyone can indicate their intent to donate, even though people under 18 must have parent's or guardian's consent. Medical ability to donate is determined at the time of death. Organs which can be transplanted include liver, kidney, pancreas, heart, lung, intestine, cornea, middle ear, skin, bone, bone marrow, heart valves and connective tissue. Check out the links below to find out how you can donate.
Doctors perform about 15,000 transplant surgeries in America each year. But Dr. Modlin says there is still an average of about 105,000 people on waiting lists to receive an organ transplant - and roughly 90,000 of those are looking for a kidney transplant
"Her situation was very serious," Dr. Modlin said. "There are a number of patients who die on the waiting list and never receive a kidney. So, Kimberly knew that that could have been her fate."
Faith Conquers Fate
Kimberly's faith would not allow her to accept that fate.
"I told God I wanted him to heal me," she said. "I didn't care how he did it, just as long as He did it. I didn't care if it was instantaneously or transplant. Whatever he had to do, I was willing to go through with it."
The answer to her prayer came at her pastor's August 16, 2009 altar call.
When Pastor Thomas told his congregation about Kimberly's need for a kidney, Jason was sitting alone near the back of the church - and his wife was working in the children's ministry. Jason had never met Kimberly, but he felt compelled to offer his kidney.
"It took my breath away almost," Jason said. "I was like, 'That's big.' But then as soon as I thought about it, I felt like lightening had just hit me. I know God spoke to me at that exact moment and said 'you are the one.'"
After the initial shock, Jason told his wife, went to be tested to be sure he was a match, and then shared the news with Kimberly once the results came back that he was a positive match.
"He told me then that he was going to give me a kidney," Kimberly said. "And when he told me that I just, I was just so overwhelmed that I started crying."
Recovery & Relationship
Surgeons performed the successful transplant at the Cleveland Clinic November 17, 2009. But the miracle story of how the recipient and donor came together had them asking questions months later.
"I thought to myself, what if he had not been at church on this particular Sunday when the pastor announced the fact that Kimberly was in need of a kidney?" Dr. Modlin told CBN News. "Kind of makes you think there was divine intervention here, in terms of Jason being there, right at the right time."
Jason's sacrifice for Kimberly made this past Christmas an extra special one for her and her four young adopted children. But he told CBN News he is the one who received the greatest gift.
"Everybody is always asking me, well that is a big sacrifice to give. I never have felt, the entire time … it was that big of a sacrifice," he said. "When God speaks to you like that, you know that you are supposed to do it. You don't really feel like it's a sacrifice. You just feel like you are doing what you are supposed to do."
Kimberly and Jason are now on the road to recovery and building a lifetime friendship. He calls her every day and pays her a visit at least once a week.
"I think he is amazing," Kimberly said about her newly adopted, adult son. "I love him for what he has done for me. But I think it goes far beyond that. He is a selfless person. And that didn't just happen. He's had to be like that for a long time. We have a bond for life."
*Originally published January 8, 2010