Meet the Kidney Donor Who Saved a Stranger's Life

Jimmie Sue Swilling, left; Kelly Weaverling, right (Photo: CBS News)A man who had been desperately searching for a kidney donor for his ailing wife has found a match in a perfect stranger.

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When Larry Swilling learned that his wife of nearly 58 years, Jimmie Sue, 76, needed a kidney transplant last year, he went into hero mode: The 78-year-old South Carolina man walked the streets of Anderson in the summer heat carrying a sign asking strangers to donate a kidney to his ailing wife. One day he walked for 15 miles in 97-degree heat, the next a remarkable 54 miles — all with torn cartilage in his knee. “People offered me money, but I said, ‘I don’t want your money; I want your kidney,’” Swilling told Yahoo Shine earlier this month. “I was prepared to walk to Washington if I had to.”

Offers began pouring in, but no one with an O-positive blood type was a match — until a woman named Kelly Weaverling, a 41-year-old retired Navy lieutenant commander from Virginia, picked up the phone.

In an interview with CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman during “CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley” (which aired Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET) Weaverling said her decision was one that "would give this family hope" and said she couldn’t offer an explanation for why she decided to donate one of her kidneys to a perfect stranger other than having an overwhelming feeling that it was the right thing to do.

CBS News The blond, blue-eyed veteran first read about Swilling in June in an article published on Yahoo News.  She clicked over to the CBS News website, where she watched video of Swilling describing Jimmie Sue as “my heart.” She told Hartman,
"'That’s my heart.' I kept on hearing him repeat those words.”

Weaverling called the Medical University of South Carolina, where Jimmie Sue was receiving treatment, and a few days later, she got in her car and made the seven-and-a-half-hour drive to the hospital for testing. The reaction from her loved ones varied: Her father was worried about her health but proud of her decision to donate. When friends questioned Weaverling's decision to donate her kidney to a 76-year-old woman and not a younger person, Weaverling replied that it was not up to her to decide when someone had led a full life. 

After Weaverling was cleared for the donation, the hospital offered her potential dates when she could have the surgery. Weaverling chose Wednesday, Sept. 11, because it would be a “positive way to remember 9/11.”

The night before the surgery, the Swillings and Weaverling met for the first time and ate dinner together. According to correspondent Hartman, Weaverling asked Larry, “How are you doing?” Larry, unable to muster the words, simply said, “Oh my goodness.”

The kidney extraction, which is typically more dangerous for the donor, not the person on the receiving end of the transplant, lasted about six hours. Jimmie Sue’s operation lasted three.

Larry and Jimmie Sue struggle with how to thank Weaverling for her gift. “There’s not enough words,” Larry told Hartman. Though the couple has a daughter, Larry said they now count Weaverling as family. “Now I have two daughters."

Follow  "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley" on Twitter at @CBSEveningNews and Facebook.

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