John and Stacy Reiser joke that their life is like a Hallmark movie — a classic boy meets girl, falls in love and gets married. Except in this Hallmark movie, the girl also saves the boy's life.
Their story goes like this:
Stacy, a diabetes educator at Mayo Clinic, stumbled across John's profile on a dating app in 2019. His profile said he loved to be in the kitchen or on the grill making food, so she messaged him asking what his favorite thing was to cook.
"It took him a whole month to message back," teases Stacy, a nurse educator at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
And it's a good thing he did.
They would turn out to be a perfect match. In two very important ways.
Before long, Stacy and John were talking on the phone almost every night. After getting to know each other a bit, Stacy decided it was time to meet in person. So one afternoon, she invited John to tag along to a beer expo she was attending with a friend.
"That's when I had to tell her I don't drink," John recalls. "And I had to tell her something serious.
John had IgA nephropathy, also known as Berger's disease, a kidney disease that occurs when an antibody called immunoglobulin A (IgA) builds up in your kidneys. He was diagnosed in 2014, and by this time the disease had progressed significantly, requiring dialysis three times a week to remove waste and fluid from his blood.
To be added to the deceased organ donor transplant list, John's doctor told him, would require losing a significant amount of weight.
"I was going to have gastric bypass, but the insurance company wouldn't cover it, so I decided to do it old school. It was do or die," John says.
On the days he didn't have dialysis, he worked out, sometimes twice a day, usually walking eight to 16 miles on a track at a nearby gym. This disciplined regimen, paired with an extremely restrictive diet, allowed him to lose over 140 pounds, qualifying him for the transplant list.
He waited for many months without a match, and he was running out of time.
That's when Stacy stepped in.
Stacy was falling in love with John and seeing how much harder dialysis got for him, so she researched the requirements to become a living organ donor.
She found the Mayo Clinic Transplant Center number and left a message requesting more information about becoming a living donor. Within a week, a living donor advocate contacted her and set the process in motion.
Stacy learned she was a match for John, but there was one other box she needed to check before they could schedule the transplant.
Living donors must have a body mass index of 35 or lower, and Stacy did not quite meet that threshold.
Luckily, though, she was already enrolled in a weight-loss study at Mayo Clinic. John was the incentive she needed to stick with it. In just three months, she lost 40 pounds and qualified to donate her kidney to John.
Without wasting any time, they scheduled the transplant.
On June 16, 2021, the operation took place.
"When I got to the operating room and saw her kidney, it finally felt real. I remember the doctor telling me to 'relax' because I was tense, and the next thing I knew I was waking up in recovery with a new kidney," John says.
I was so happy that I think I was probably even slightly annoying," he admits. "I'm so grateful Stacy did this for me. If it weren't for her, I would probably not be here."
Stacy is humble about the role she played in saving John's life.
"Here I was just trying to give away something I already had enough of to my best friend and soulmate, and everyone thought I was a superhero," Stacy says. "It’s already inside us — the gift to donate a kidney, part of a liver, bone marrow or something else. Might as well pay it forward and bring that light and love to others."
Both John and Stacy say they are grateful for the care they received at Mayo Clinic before, during and since their operation.
"I felt supported and taken care of the entire time. At every office visit they would ask: Are you sure you want to go through with this?" Stacy recalls. "If I ever had doubts or wanted to give it more thought, I knew the living donor advocate team would step in like a mother bear and pause the journey while I took the time I needed."
As a nurse herself, Stacy had heard many out-of-state patients say how incredibly fortunate the locals are to have the country's top hospital nearby.
"I have a whole new level of pride after getting to experience the efficiency, professionalism and class firsthand as a patient," Stacy says.
Since the transplant, Stacy and John have been happy, healthy and enjoying life.
John will take anti-rejection medication for life, and is committed to eating right and drinking plenty of water, but says he is feeling well.
Stacy says she feels better than ever.
"Many people told me going into the kidney donation that the surgery is harder on the donor than the recipient," Stacy says. "I disagree! I may have been lucky, but I had no issues during or after surgery. I do not notice any differences now with just one kidney."
The couple took the next step in their relationship when they tied the knot on September 22, 2022.
The newlyweds are having fun discovering new hobbies together — traveling, trying new restaurants and riding motorcycles — and are looking forward to many more years of adventures together.
"God brought us together at the most perfect time," Stacy says. "I needed his heart, and he needed my kidney."
This story also appears on the In the Loop blog. You can find it there and share it with others.