WAUSAU, WI (WSAW/CNN) - After a man wore a shirt asking for a kidney donor at a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game, a picture of the shirt made the rounds on social media, prompting a total stranger to come to his aid.
When second grade teacher Emily Nowak saw the picture of Lenny Zweig, she immediately called the number printed on the shirt to offer her help.
"Last January, I made a bucket list and on it said 'to help out a complete stranger,’" Nowak said. "I had no idea what that was going to look like, and I definitely did not think it was going to be donating a kidney."
Though Nowak’s kidney turned out to be too small for Zweig, she was determined he would still get the organ he needed. So, they created a donor chain, ensuring Zweig got a kidney and Nowak’s had a place to go.
On Nov. 2, Nowak donated her kidney to a man named Chuck, and Zweig received a new kidney from a man named Michael.
"It’s almost the exact same situation as Emily and I, where Emily was a good match for me but, due to the size of her kidney, it wouldn’t work. And on the other end, Michael was a direct match for Chuck, but there were problems with the antigens,” Zweig said.
All the kidneys were exchanged, and Zweig and Chuck now have a new lease on life.
"My kids are very happy to have their dad back, and they can already see the difference,” Zweig said. "She's [Emily] definitely a super woman."
Since the surgeries, Nowak says she and Zweig have become very close and talk every day, checking in on each other’s recovery.
“He's a great guy, definitely deserving, and so is his family,” Nowak said. "I'm feeling great. They always say that the donor's going to feel really happy and excited afterwards, and that's exactly how I feel."
Nowak was back on her feet the day of her surgery and was released from the hospital after only two weeks, the minimum amount of time she said doctors recommended.
Zweig said Michael needed a little more hospital time because his kidney was larger than Nowak’s and needed a larger incision.
But everyone is recovering well.
"I’ll have to take antirejection meds for the rest of my life, which is a small price to pay for the gift I’ve been given,” Zweig said.
Zweig shaved off his beard, which signified the several long years he was waiting on a donor, and added a trip to Hawaii to his family’s bucket list.
Zweig and Nowak are working on moving forward with a campaign to spread awareness and education about kidney donation as well as a website to help people with the process of donating and waiting for a donation.
Of course, they’re also working on new shirts.
"We’re in the works on a new T-shirt because now, he has the kidney, so we’ll see what happens in the end,” Nowak said.
If you would like to donate a kidney, you can get on the donor registry.
Zweig said everything is free for the donor, including testing and surgery, because they are covered by the recipient’s insurance. The donor is also covered by Medicare for life.
Overall healthy people are better donor candidates.
If you don’t want to donate a kidney but still want to help, Nowak and Zweig suggest donating time and/or money to the cause.