Chance meeting at bus stop in Denmark saves many lives in U.S

Published: Feb. 14, 2020 at 12:07 PM EST
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It's a miraculous story of chance that ends with many lives saved.

Natacha Kragesteen, 28, was born with a genetic defect that eventually led to her need for a life-saving kidney transplant. She lives in Denmark with her two young daughters and her boyfriend Louis Plesner.

Louis wanted to donate a kidney to Natacha, but he was not a match. That left her on the kidney transplant waiting list for the last few years and undergoing kidney dialysis three times a week for four hours a day.

A chance meeting one day changed their fate. Louis was in Copenhagen waiting for a bus one day when he had to seek shelter from a storm under an awning.

"This American couple came over and seeks shelter next to me, and we talked and they were in Denmark on a kidney transplant conference," says Louis.

Turns out, the couple was from Johns Hopkins University and worked in the field of shared kidney exchange, which is a "pay-it-forward" type of kidney transplant program in the United States. Louis shared the story of his girlfriend Natacha and the couple offered to help them out.

They were on their way to the airport to leave the country, but their friends, Susan and Mike Rees from the University of Toledo Medical Center's paired kidney exchange program were still in the country and willing to talk to Louis to see if he and Natacha were candidates for the U.S. kidney program.

"The only thing I ever prayed for was for Natacha to get a chance, and this was the chance that showed up a miracle," says Louis.

The couple connected with Susan, who is a registered nurse, and Mike, who is a kidney transplant surgeon, and came to the conclusion that they would be helped in Toledo in the paired kidney exchange.

"Nobody could have orchestrated this, nobody," says Susan.

"I think maybe the universe was helping us a little bit, it's just so crazy how it happened," says Natacha.

The life-saving chain wouldn't just help the young couple. Louis's kidney would be flown down to Wake Forest University in North Carolina to help someone there, and the donor from Wake Forest donated a kidney to someone at Duke University. The Duke donor's kidney came to Toledo to save Natacha's life.

In addition to this life-saving chain, the Minister of Health from Denmark is now considering opening that country to the paired kidney exchange program so that other people waiting for kidney transplants have a greater chance of getting one.

So a chance meeting at a bus stop has the potential to save thousands of lives.