Bethany and Hannah Goralski may have lost a parent, but they certainly gained new family on Monday after meeting the recipients of their kidney donations —and the two chains of successive donations theirs inspired.
The two sisters had lost their father, Mark, to kidney disease in 2018. The Goralski family had done everything they could to preserve his life; Bethany and Hannah’s brother, Josh, donated his kidney to his father in 2011, but the transplant had failed.
The two sisters also wanted to donate their kidneys to their ailing father, but by that point, Mark was too ill to attempt another transplant.
So with their father’s passing, the Goralski sisters resolved to give others what their father had so desperately needed by donating their own kidneys in March 2019, on two successive days.
What the two wanted was to save other families from the grief they endured due to their father’s failing kidney. What they didn’t anticipate, however, was that their donated kidneys would spark two chains of kidney donations that have changed more than 10 other lives.
The donors, including the Goralski sisters, recipients, and part of the medical staff involved in the endeavor gathered Monday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital to meet face-to-face for the first time.
Because the donations were anonymous, neither the five donors nor the five recipients in the room knew who each other was —they were complete strangers.
Following brief context provided by Dr. John Friedewald, the medical director of kidney transplants at the hospital, each pair of donors and recipients was revealed one-by-one.
Hannah’s kidney had gone to Julia Bauchwitz. Bauchwitz’s friend, Kathryn Mottl, was inspired to donate her kidney, which went to Michael Apa. Apa’s daughter then donated hers, going to Luis Sandoval, whose friend is due to donate their kidney.
Bethany’s kidney went to Melanie Mavec, whose father, Richard Pollack, donated his to Christopher Heitz. Heitz’s in-law will donate their kidney next.
Those involved in these two chains embraced one another and held back tears upon meeting either their donors or recipients.
When Friedewald announced that Pollack’s kidney had gone to Heitz, Pollack told Heitz to “take care of it for us” as they hugged, eliciting chuckles from those observing.
After each donation pair was revealed, the Goralski sisters spoke with tears in their eyes.
“I’m shocked,” Bethany said. “We knew there was the potential for change. It’s exciting to think that my kidney didn’t just help one person, but helped all these people.”
Mavec, who received Bethany’s kidney, said that the experience meeting Bethany —and seeing all the others in the chains who had donated and received —was “heartfelt.”
“You just feel the personal aspect of it on a whole new inner level,” Mavec said. “That type of feeling… you just can’t describe it. It’s just there.
“You feel like you can look them in the eye like, ‘I feel connected to you now.’”