One Woman's Gift Of Life

Things could not be going better for Joyce Roush. Her oldest daughter Emily is setting out to begin college and the whole clan is healthy and happy in Fort Wayne, Indiana, reports CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger.

"I'm deeply aware that my life is blessed," Roush says.

Looking at her, it's hard to imagine, but Tuesday Joyce Roush will undergo major surgery and become part of medical history. She has decided to donate one of her kidneys - not to a family member - not even to someone she knows - but to anyone in America who needed it. Only one other person has done that and she remains anonymous.

"I'm healthy, my kids don't need the kidney, my husband doesn't need it, I don't need both of them, so why would I not make the decision?" She asks. "It never mattered to me who got the kidney."

She decided to give up her kidney after attending a conference where she learned about a new, simpler type of surgery to remove kidneys.

"And I literally was on the edge of my chair thinking, I can do this!!" she says.

Making the decision was one thing, explaining it to her husband Richard was another.

"So I walk in the door ... 'Hi honey how was your conference?' And I go, 'Oh the conference was great and guess what, I'm gonna donate a kidney," she says.

"That's when I felt really ill," Richard Roush says. "Oh yeah, wanted to throw up ... oh yeah, my stomach started churning."

Chris and Joyce meet for the first time.

Why would anyone decide to give up a kidney to a total stranger? Joyce is doing it partly because every day she sees first hand what the shortage of transplant organs means to people.

"I have worked with people in the worst moments of their lives," she says.

She's a nurse with the Indiana Organ Procurment Organization.

"And if my kids needed this and I couldn't do it, would I hope someone out there would make the same decision? Absolutely," she says.

Even though there are more than 40,000 people waiting for kidney transplants it took doctors 18 months to find the right recipient for Joyce's. And then they found Christopher Bienik.

Christopher was diagnosed with kidney failure last year. He is 13 years old.

"There's this one time I was afraid I was gonna die cuz they say you can't live without your kidneys, but you can live with just one," he says.

While he waits for a kidney from the woman he's never met, Christopher has to be hooked up to a dialysis machine every night for eight hours.

Last Tuesday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Chris had his final check-up before surgery. Joyce Roush also was there, for her check-up and for the first tme the Bienik family and Joyce met.

"What I think is that I'm so honored to be able to do this and I would ask that you do something very special with your life," Joyce told Chris.

Kidney transplant surgery is simpler than it used to be, but it is still risky. It will strenghten Chris's body and Joyce's soul.

Part 2: Nurse Is Transplant Pioneer

©1999 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed