Wife donates kidney to save husband, ends up saving dad instead

(CBS News) MYERSVILLE, Md. -- Nine years ago, Chuck Stitt's kidneys began to fail, but he refused his wife Julie's offer to donate her kidney.

"I felt like it was more my problem, and why involve her? I wanted to feel like a protector in some way," said Stitt.

Last year, after his body rejected his second transplanted kidney, he gave in. But it turned out his wife's kidney was not a match.

Richard Kern, Julie Stitt and Chuck Stitt discuss the twist of fate that allowed Julie's kidney to save two lives.
Richard Kern, Julie Stitt and Chuck Stitt discuss the twist of fate that allowed Julie's kidney to save two lives.
CBS News

So they signed up for the Paired Kidney Exchange at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Under the national program, Julie's kidney would go to someone else, while Chuck was moved higher on the transplant list.

Last December he received a kidney and is now in good health. Stitt said he considers Julie his savior and his hero.

But in a terrible twist of fate, Julie's father, Richard Kern, had also begun to experience kidney failure.

She asked the program if she could donate to him, but under the rules her kidney had to go to the next person on the list.

In a coincidence that the transplant doctors say was astounding, next in line was her father, and their kidneys were a perfect match.

"I was just flabbergasted. I've never seen anything like this in 28 years in the transplant field," said Dr. Stephen Bartlett.

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Dr. Bartlett, head of surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center, has performed about 3,000 kidney transplants, including Richard Kern's.

When asked about the risks facing Kern if his daughter had not given him her kidney, Dr. Bartlett said, "Waiting on the transplant list as an elderly diabetic man, there's a lot of risk for him, so she saved his life."

Julie Stitt said she did what anyone in her position would do. She said she decided she was going to be a donor and pushed ahead.

"That's my personality, I'm very stubborn," said Stitt. Her father said she takes after him.

Kern described receiving his daughter's kidney as, "Wonderful. I tell you it's fantastic. Couldn't be better. It's like my wife and I gave birth to her, gave her life, and now she's giving me my life back."

Julie Stitt said she doesn't feel like a hero. Giving up a kidney to help save the two most important men in her life, she said, was one of the easiest decisions she ever made.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.

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