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Donor Amy Waggoner, left, answered writer Brad Meltzer’s Facebook plea for a healthy kidney for his former high school history teacher Ellen Sherman. (Photo: Amy Waggoner)
Bestselling writer Brad Meltzer is known for his gripping mysteries and thrillers. But the real-life story of how Meltzer saved his high school teacher’s life by helping her get a new kidney from one of his Facebook followers is even stranger than fiction.
The plot began when Meltzer, 45, dedicated his 2013 book, History Decoded, to Ellen Sherman, 71, a retired history teacher at North Miami Beach High School. Meltzer was in Sherman’s class in 1987, and he credits her with inspiring his love of history.
After the book hit store shelves, Sherman exchanged emails with Meltzer. The two had been out of touch for years, but one of the emails from Sherman asked for a personal favor.
Meltzer visits Waggoner in Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami before her operation to remove her kidney, which then went to Sherman. (Photo: Amy Waggoner)
For more than a decade, Sherman had been suffering from an illness that led to kidney failure. She was in need of a transplant, so she asked Meltzer if he could ask his 60,000-plus Facebook friends if anyone would consider donating a kidney to her.
Meltzer agreed and put up a post. “Maybe I’m insane, or maybe this is going to be the best Spreading Kindness story of all time,” wrote Meltzer in 2013. “But if you’re willing, please take a chance.”
Hundreds of people responded — including Amy Waggoner, a graphic designer from Chantilly, Va., who had met Meltzer years earlier through mutual friends and became a real-life friend as well as a Facebook follower of Meltzer’s.
“I can’t explain it, but when I saw the post, something compelled me to see if I would be a match as a donor,” Waggoner tells Yahoo Parenting. She replied to a link on Meltzer’s page but didn’t hear back.
“For some reason, I decided to try again,” she says, and that second try eventually connected her to Sherman’s husband’s assistant, who was fielding replies from potential donors.
Becoming a kidney donor, of course, takes a lot more than just clicking a link. “In February, the transplant hospital in Miami said they first needed me to send them two vials of my blood for an initial test to determine if I was a match,” says Waggoner, 36.
“Once I proved to be a match, I flew to Miami in April to undergo a day of intense tests to make sure I was healthy and able to donate,” she says. The trip was paid for by Sherman, who went out to dinner with Waggoner that evening. “I instantly fell in love with [Sherman] and her husband,” she recalls.
Weeks later, doctors gave Waggoner the all-clear to go through with the donation. On Aug. 26, she endured a four-hour operation to remove her kidney, which was immediately walked down the hall to another operating room where Sherman waited for her transplant.
Meltzer was on hand at Jackson Memorial Hospital to see his teacher and friend. “He came the day of the surgery to visit us both,” says Waggoner.
Since the transplant, Waggoner has been healing well, though she won’t be able to leave Miami until Sept. 12, after follow-up tests give her the thumbs-up that she’s healthy. “The body needs only one kidney to function, so I can go back to my regular life with no restrictions,” she says.
Sherman, meanwhile, will need more time to recover. But the new kidney is already “working like a charm,” Waggoner says, adding that Sherman was just days away from having to go on dialysis. Now she won’t have to.
“It’s crazy how social medial can do good,” says Waggoner. “I’ve never doubted my decision to donate, and I encourage others to do the same.”
As the one who connected Sherman and Waggoner, Meltzer is overjoyed. “We read horror after horror in the newspaper, but you find the best of us as a species and what we’re truly capable of when you put kindness out in the universe,” he told the Miami Herald. “We all believe the more we tell this story, the more people it might help.”