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Woman who put up billboards looking for kidney, finds her match

Posted at 5:42 PM, Nov 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-14 18:42:18-05

A life-saving match at Froedtert Hospital leads to a life-long friendship.

Back in March, TODAY'S TMJ4 first introduced you to Jessica Wickersheimer.

The 39-year-old West Allis resident put up billboards throughout Milwaukee pleading for a stranger to donate a kidney.

She also put a sign on her car, posted on social media sites, and wore t-shirts to major sporting events asking for a donor.

Jennifer Shallow, who did not know Wickersheimer, saw her post on Facebook and felt a calling to help. Shallow called Froedtert to see if she could donate. 

While Shallow was not an exact match for Wickersheimer, she agreed to participate in a "kidney exchange." Shallow donated a kidney to another person in need, who had someone prepared to donate on their behalf as well.  

On Oct. 10, Shallow and Wickersheimer were part of a six-person, multi-state kidney exchange, that ultimately saved three lives.

"I would do it again in a heartbeat," Shallow said. "Knowing I saved a life is a powerful thing. And in doing so, I gained a life-long friend."

"I'm alive all because she was generous and thoughtful enough to help a stranger," Wickersheimer said. "Now, we talk every day. Without that transplant, I was given a year to live."

Wickersheimer and Shallow found out they only live three miles apart. Their families have become close as well. Wickersheimer's mom and Shallow's daughter held hands in solidarity at the press conference at Froedtert.

"It's a miracle," said Wickersheimer's mom, Cathy.

"My mom is one of the strongest people I know," said Shallow's daughter, BreHanna.

But this is not where it ends. Because of Wickersheimer's billboards and social media posts, other strangers reached out to help and ended up being matches for at least three others waiting for an organ transplant.

"When Froedtert called and told me their phones were ringing off the hook about it, it made me feel so good," Wickersheimer said. "They got 30 calls in one day. It was amazing. It makes you realize there are still good people out there."

"Indirectly, she helped so many other people," said transplant nephrologist, Dr. Ehab Saad. "As a doctor, this is the best outcome you can have with your patient. The hard work and tough times were worth it. It brings tears to my eyes knowing she's given a second chance at life."

Doctors at Froedtert say a living donor is often a more viable option for transplant patients. Dr. Saad also shared this startling fact: 15 to 17 Americans die every day because they can't get a transplant.