Second Chance Blog


Ad in Church Newsletter Inspires Lehigh Valley Woman to Save the Life of a Stranger

Jo Ann Coles and her husband attend 9 a.m. mass at Peckville Assembly of God in Blakely, PA every Sunday. In July 2016, there was a flyer placed in the church bulletin for a man named Kevin who was in need of a life-saving kidney, a flyer that would inspire Jo Ann to save a life.

Jo Ann had never met Kevin before, but the flyer caused her to ask another parish member if he knew Kevin. She was told Kevin was also a member of the parish who always attended the 11 a.m. mass. Kevin had been on dialysis for two years after having both kidneys removed due to a hereditary disease, ruling out most of his family as potential donors as many of them suffered from the same condition.

“This overwhelming feeling came over me,” Jo Ann recalls the day she saw the flyer. “I had never thought about being a donor, not when I died, let alone when I was alive.”

After mass, Jo Ann could not stop thinking about the call to save a life. She told her husband that evening that she wanted to be tested to be Kevin’s living kidney donor.

“My husband thought I was off the wall,” Jo Ann said. “But he knows when I make up my mind to do something there’s no arguing.”

After sharing the news with her husband, Jo Ann called Leigh Valley Transplant Center right away. Jo Ann was determined to help this man she had never met, calling the center every day for three weeks, until she finally received the call to come in for blood work. She began her testing in a local lab in Scranton, the only other person knowing of her actions, besides her husband, was her pastor.

“After I passed the second round of tests, my pastor insisted I tell Kevin that I was an exact match,” Jo Ann said. “I will never forget that day and how grateful he was that someone he had never met would step out and try and save his life.”

Despite being an exact match, the road to the day of the transplant was not an easy one. Jo Ann was told she would need to lose some weight in order to donate her kidney to Kevin. While Jo Ann worked to be in her best condition, Kevin’s health continued to decline, experiencing episodes where his lungs were filling up with fluid. In six months Jo Ann lost 65 pounds, motivated by the fact that Kevin’s life depended on it and the transplant date was set for February 8th, 2017.

As the day of surgery drew closer, the pair continued to experience struggles that could lead to a delay in the transplant. Kevin was continuously showing high potassium levels and it was uncertain if the 8th would stay the date. However, they remained optimistic, even planning a dinner for their families, along with their pastor, to meet the Saturday before the transplant date.

“I never wanted our families to meet in a waiting room,” Jo Ann said. “That was the best thing we could have done, it’s amazing how two families became one.”

The morning of the scheduled date, Kevin continued to show high levels of potassium and failed a stress test, unable to get his heart rate up. Doctor’s tried a final round of dialysis in an attempt to bring levels up to avoid postponing the surgery, and it was a success, just as the kidney transplant that followed that afternoon.

“I call Kevin my ‘brother from another mother’, we talk every single week,” Jo Ann said. “His mother and I also talk several times a week and do things together, we are family.”

Today, both Jo Ann and Kevin are living healthy, happy lives. The pair of strangers gained both a second chance at life and a new family, all because of Jo Ann’s gift of life to Kevin. Jo Ann and her husband serve as avid advocates for organ donation, both volunteering with Gift of Life Donor Program. They strive to spread awareness of the importance of organ donation, hoping to educate those who were once life them, unknowing of the lives registering as a donor can save.

“I never knew until I started this process how many people die every day waiting for an organ donor,” Jo Ann said. “Now when I see someone reaching out desperately for an organ, for either themselves or a loved one, it saddens me that more people aren’t coming forward to save a life. One never knows when they might be the one who is desperately searching for themselves or a loved one.”

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