From the time he was 13 years old, Jairus “Matt” Pierce, battled kidney disease. By 2016, when he was 44, the disease had become debilitating. A shift commander for a fire department, Matt had been forced to take a light-duty assignment because of his medical condition. He required daily dialysis, and the only long-term solution was a life-saving kidney transplant.
Simply put, Matt needed a hero.
Nicole Bayne, an accountant from Phoenix, was moved to donate a kidney by a TV news report about a firefighter at the Gila River Fire Department in Arizona who was in need of a transplant. That firefighter was Matt Pierce.
Although Nicole doesn't necessarily ascribe to the “hero” moniker, her daughter, Ashley, a nurse, confirms it.
"I am so proud of my mom. She is my hero,” Ashley says. “She has always taught us about doing good things."
This was more than your average good thing.
Nicole contacted Mayo Clinic the morning after she saw the TV segment about Matt Pierce's wait for a kidney transplant and asked to be tested to be a living kidney donor. Her request was specific. She wanted her kidney to go to Matt.
“I thought that if my kidney could save one firefighter, Matt, in turn, could save many more lives,” Nicole says.
At first, Matt didn’t know about Nicole's interest in donating a kidney to him. He found out on July 27, 2016, when he received a phone call from Mayo Clinic while he was at his fire station. He was told that a donor had been tested and approved to provide a kidney for his transplant.
"I lost it. I broke down," Matt says. "I had no words."
His fire chief came into the room, and seeing Matt, asked, "Did the call come in?" Matt nodded, and within minutes, the entire fire department crew joined them to celebrate the news.
Also celebrating was Gina Cordova, Matt's partner of many years. Gina had stepped up to be tested to be Matt's kidney donor. She had gone through comprehensive medical and psychological testing, and she and Matt were anxious for the kidney transplant journey to begin. However, after a final test, Gina was told that because of some kidney issues, she could not be a donor.
Matt will always remember that day while waiting for Gina, his presumed kidney donor. He was startled to see her coming toward him sobbing. She broke the news that she could not be his donor.
"It was a pretty quiet ride home," Gina says.
After that, Gina continued to take her role as caregiver for Matt seriously, arranging for a six-week leave from her job as a pharmaceutical technician. She is forever grateful to Nicole for her generosity.
"You never think about a living donor until someone you love needs one,” Gina says.
Nicole had originally asked for her donation to be anonymous. While the staff at Mayo Clinic was committed to making sure her request was honored, Nicole eventually decided to reveal her identity after the transplant surgery.
“I didn’t want to get his hopes up until I was approved,” Nicole says. “Then I wanted to wait until after his surgery, so as not to add any more stress to his life.”
After the transplant, Nicole sent a greeting card to Matt that was delivered to his hospital room. Although it was not Matt's birthday, the card included birthday greetings that brought both Matt and Gina to tears.
Nicole noted that when someone receives a life-saving organ, it is considered a new birthday. Along with her note, Nicole signed her first name. The envelope also contained a necklace with a kidney-shaped charm, which Matt now wears daily. Later that day, after mutually agreeing to meet, Nicole walked to Matt’s room to talk with him in person.
With the kidney transplant behind him, Matt is looking forward to returning to his work with the fire department.
And he has a message for Nicole and for others in need of a hero.
"I am humbled and will forever cherish your gift of life," he says. "For all the craziness in the world, there are good people. I received a kidney from a complete stranger."