Ford worker makes life-saving liver donation to stranger at rival automaker

Ford worker donates liver to GM autoworker

In our series A More Perfect Union, we aim to show that what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. Almost 50,000 workers walked off the job more than two weeks ago at America's biggest automaker, General Motors. It's estimated the strike has cost GM more than $1 billion. But in this installment, CBS News transportation correspondent Kris Van Cleave introduces us to one Ford autoworker who helped lessen the divide in Detroit with one selfless act.


After getting sick four years ago, General Motors autoworker Rick Foley learned he needed a life-saving liver transplant. His odds were grim: 1 in 5 people in his situation didn't make it.

"You get really desperate…" he said. "I was dying every day."

None of Foley's family members were a fit, so Foley's wife, Carolyn, posted a desperate plea at the Ford plant across town where she works: "My husband, Rick Foley, needs a liver transplant."

The plea caught the attention of Fredo Pacheco, who also worked at the Ford plant.

"Carolyn was just a co-worker. I didn't know her much," Pacheco said. "She was a 'hi' and 'bye' friend at work. Rick, I'd never met him. I met him the day I told him."

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Fredo Pacheco speaks about his decision to donate a part of his liver CBS News

"So, 'Hi, it's nice to meet you. I'm giving you my liver,'" remarked CBS News transportation correspondent Kris Van Cleave.

"Basically," Pacheco said. "They knew I was trying, but they didn't know I was his match yet."
 
"I knew I could help somebody," he added. "In my heart, I knew, I knew I was his match."

Pacheco's wife Kathy took a video that captured how long the hug lasted when he shared the news. "It's literally someone taking you out to dinner, letting you know that they're gonna save your life," Foley said. "And actually, 'this is the date that the surgery is going to happen, if you're available.'"

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Video captured the moment Pacheco told Foley he planned to donate part of his liver CBS News

"I didn't imagine that there was a human, someone out there that was going to want to save my life," Foley added. "And I certainly didn't think it would be a stranger."

Pacheco, a father of five, was a perfect match, but the pair faced a setback: Doctors said Pacheco was 28 pounds too heavy for the surgery. To fix that, he started working out before and after his 10-hour overnight shift.
 
Pacheco made his goal by one pound. But the surgery still had risks. Living liver transplants are rare — only a few hundred happen in the U.S. each year — and 1 in 500 donors don't survive the surgery.

"We find these living donors to be the most inspiring individuals to ever work with," said Dr. Marwan Abouljoud, who performed part of the successful transplant at Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital.
 
"He is the fullest of human potential, Fredo," Foley said. "It's a gift that I can't repay. But I can spend a lifetime being his friend."

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Rick Foley reflects on the impact Pacheco has had on his life CBS News

And when Pacheco bought his own F-150 after years of making the vehicle, he knew right where to drive it: to visit Foley.

"When you see a man frail and knowing he's going to die soon, to where he is now, is an amazing gift," he said. 

"Do you ever feel the urge to remind him that it's essentially a Ford part that's keeping the Chevy going?" asked Van Cleave.

"All the time," Pacheco said. "We do it all the time."