Cardinals fan receives kidney from Wildcats fan

A cats fan donates a kidney to a cards fan in need.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- It is no secret where Ed Johnston's allegiance lies when it comes to college sports. He can usually be seen wearing his Cardinal red, but it's what's underneath that makes his story so special. The grandfather of three was born with only one kidney.

"I actually lived a normal life," he said. "I just couldn't play contact sports and a few of those things."

It was around four years earlier when Johnston's health started to take a turn for the worse. Doctors told him he would need to start looking for a kidney transplant or start undergoing dialysis once his kidneys started functioning at less than 20 percent. Seeking to avoid dialysis, Johnston was placed on the donor list in March.

"I had quite a few donors that stepped up--my friends, relatives, family members," he said. "And they were all declined."

Johnston said he was hoping to find a living donor, which would drastically shorten his time waiting on a kidney, but with his options dwindling, he was preparing for the long wait for a kidney from a deceased donor, which could take four years or even longer.

Like sports, social media can also bring strangers together. Johnston's daughter, Natalie Dale, created a video in May featuring his granddaughters and friends with the hope of finding a donor.

"She said she wasn't going to stop until I got a kidney," he said.

The video was shared hundreds of times and viewed more than 15,000 times on Facebook. Among those viewers was Amy Turley, who said she had no connection to Johnston, but felt compelled to do something after seeing the video every time she logged onto the social media site, reaching out to Johnston's family in May.

"I said I just feel like I'm supposed to try and see if I'm a match for him," she said.

"The doctors have told me this is such a good match that this will probably be the only one I need the rest of my life," Johnston said.

It seemed like the perfect match, but Johnston had one more question for Turley when he finally met her in person at the University of Kentucky Transplant Center in Lexington, Ky.

"First, I told her how much I appreciated and thought the gift she's giving me is unbelievable," he said. "And then the first real question I ask her is, 'Well are you a UK or UofL fan?'"

"I said, 'I bleed blue. UK all the way!' And I was like, 'Oh my gosh, you're from Louisville!'" Turley said. "I said, 'My kidney's strong enough that it'll turn you over to a Cat pretty quickly."

Johnston said his doctors and nurses also had fun with him after learning about his allegiance to the Cardinals, even using a Kentucky Wildcats scrunchie to tie up some of his machinery in the hospital.

"They found out I was a UofL fan and right before I was going in, they said, 'Well, usually we don't give you guys anesthesia for this,'" he said.

Johnston and Turley finally had their operations this past Thursday. Turley left the hospital Sunday, Johnston a day later. For Johnston, he said he is already feeling better with his new kidney, which will let him not only watch his granddaughters grow up but allow him to play an active role in their lives.

"I want to coach my grandchildren in volleyball as they grow up, and that's one of the biggest things, just to play with them, being able to run with them and hang out with them," he said.

Both continue to recover at their homes and both are looking forward to this Saturday's rivalry matchup between the Cats and the Cards on the gridiron, though Turley said she has not talked with Johnston about the game. But regardless of Saturday's outcome, their relationship is more than just a friendly rivalry and it's more than just a kidney.

"I don't even know how to put it into words what I got out of it," Turley said. "It's absolutely amazing. A lot of tears have been shed but they've all been great."

"There will never be enough words to talk about my appreciation," Johnston said. "When you just think that somebody giving you a gift like that that you don't even know, it's just pretty special."

Johnston said he will need to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life for his new kidney, which he jokes will also help keep him from becoming a Kentucky Wildcats fan.

Both Turley and Johnston said they hope their story will encourage other people to learn more about organ donation and to make the decision to become a donor.

Here are several resources for people looking for more information:
Mulligan's Living Kidney Donors 
Kentucky Organ Donation Affiliates 
Donate Life America 

© 2017 WHAS-TV


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