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Illinois police officer's kidney gift saves Navy veteran's life

Rockford radio station’s request, unlike any other, fulfilled

BELVIDERE — Navy veteran Rachel Schultz rang in the new year with a new lease on life thanks to a stranger’s gift.

Lakemoor police officer Nicole Gaborek, 27, read a Facebook post on Rockford radio station 95.3 The Bull’s page about the Belvidere veteran’s need of a kidney donor.

“I have always been a blood and platelet donor. I’m on the bone marrow registry, so it’s not totally out of my wheelhouse,” Gaborek said. “When I read about Rachel, live organ donation never occurred to me before.”

Then quickly, on her lunch break, she decided and told her partner that she was going to donate a kidney.

Turning to social media was one of many efforts Schultz, 31, made to find a donor.

“I was thinking of getting the word out in any way, shape or form,” she said.

Her phone number and request were put on magnetic bumper stickers, flyers and even a self-designed T-shirt.

Laughing, she said, “I don’t care if my shirt is dorky with a smiling kidney face on it. I wore it to a Cubs vs. Brewers game. Talking with a friend one day, we came up with an idea of sending my story in to a radio station,” Schultz said. “I actually sent it in to The Bull’s affiliate, 104.9 The X. But The Bull shared it instead, and that’s where Nicole saw it.”

Gaborek felt a kinship with the stranger. “When I read the article, she reminded me of me, she said. “She missed traveling — I am also an avid traveler. She has a cat — I have a cat. She missed spending time with her friends. I am blessed with friends; thinking about not having the energy to spend time with my friends — that would be the worst. If there was a (military) branch I had gone into, it would have been the Navy.”

Before she became ill, Schultz was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, and she was sent to 25 countries during her six-year stint in the Navy. Schultz jokes, “We were on the road a lot.”

She also started the master’s program but had to put her studies on hold. Every part of her day-to-day was centered on dialysis.

It wasn’t until after the Dec. 4 surgery at Rush University Medical Center in downtown Chicago that Gaborek realized the true impact she’d made on Schultz’s life.

“I started about two years ago on dialysis,” Schultz explains. “At the time, it was three days a week, for at least four hours, while working a full-time job. Three or four months after I started, I could do it at home. It was more flexible. But it went to four days per week.”

There are no known causes or prevention for the type of kidney disease she had. There is also no cure aside from organ transplant.

“Dialysis is that necessary evil. I’d just remind myself, ‘I have to do this so I don’t die,’” Schultz recalls.

No longer tethered to a machine, she has much more energy. “The transplant was on a Wednesday, and I was out that Saturday, driving by Monday.”

The women discussed the theory of cellular memory, a transfer of traits passing from donor to their recipients.

“The one thing I have noticed, she never had soda, and now I really don’t like soda,” Schultz said. “I’ll take that this is a good change to have.”

Gaborek said, “We talked about the foods that she liked and didn’t like. I was actually vegetarian for 11 years. She told me she had joked with her family, saying she hoped she didn’t get some vegetarian’s kidney.”

Overall, both are healing quickly.

“I feel great,” Gaborek said. “I have had literally zero pain related to the incisions and everything. Sometimes I get sleepy if I eat too much. But, I was in the gym five days after surgery doing light cardio.”

“For me, they didn’t take out a kidney. I have three now. The new one is in the front and both of mine were bad and are in the backseat,” Schultz said. Laughing, she adds, “It’s like the new kidney is driving and saying, ‘Don’t make me pull this car over!’

“This year, I want to go on a trip, even if it’s just a few hours away. Hopefully, I’ll be able to finish my master’s by 2021. I’ve been trying to do that for the past five or six years, but the kidney stuff has been throwing wrenches in those plans. You just can’t thank someone enough for giving you your life back.”

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