Some Northwest Indiana residents will be taking part in a world-record setting meeting of living organ donors this weekend in Chicago.
Patty Cowser, of Crown Point, and Christine Graf, of Schererville, are among the participants in Saturday's event, which is expected to draw more than 1,000 living donors to Millennium Park. The gathering is expected to qualify for the Guinness Book of World Records.
Organizers are holding the event to raise awareness of the need for living donors. People are expected from 39 states, as well as India and Canada. They will meet at "The Cloud Gate" statue, also known as "The Bean," because of its resemblance to a human kidney.
"Even if every American signed their driver's licenses saying they'd be an organ donor, it wouldn't be enough to satisfy the need for organs," said organizer Laurie Lee, a living donor who resides in Cary, Illinois. "We really need to shine the light on living donors. We need to have more living donors come forward and not rely on deceased donors."
According to the American Transplant Foundation, more than 120,000 Americans are waiting for organ transplants, and on an average day about 20 of them die waiting.
In 2012, Cowser's son's former high school football coach, Mark Reid, posted on Facebook that he needed a kidney because of diabetes. She offered to see if she was a match. She was a perfect one.
They went to Indiana University Health hospital in Indianapolis in 2013 for the procedure.
"I went in on a Friday morning. They removed my kidney and gave it to him. On Sunday, I went home," she said. "I went back to work 2.5 weeks later. I was bored, so I went back to work."
Five years later, Reid is in good health, now coaching football at Griffith High School.
Reid calls Cowser his "kidney sister," while she calls him his "kidney brother."
"I definitely would recommend this to anybody," Cowser said. "You only need to live with one kidney. There are so many people on the list waiting for kidneys. It was a great experience. I was able to help someone live longer, continue living for his grandkids."
In November 2016, Graf was at work when one of her colleagues collapsed. She administered CPR, but he didn't make it. He was 29 years old.
He had kidney disease and diabetes, so Graf decided to help someone with a similar condition.
She decided to become an altruistic kidney donor, giving to a random stranger. Her donation set off a chain that has led to 12 people getting kidneys.
"It's the most rewarding thing I've ever done in my life," she said. "Because I could save (my co-worker's) life, I wanted to save someone else's life. So far 12 people have been given a second chance at life."