Jason Reyes’ kidneys had failed him. He endured four-hour long dialysis treatments three times each week. He was on the waiting list for a kidney with an average wait time of eight years.
When co-worker Heather Szymaszek learned of this, she remembered a friend who went through dialysis and how awful it was.
“All I thought about was him being hooked up to machines all the time – it’s no way to live. I just knew I had to help,” said Heather.
These two employees at ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor No. 4 steel producing didn’t know each other very well. But Heather was willing to donate a kidney to Jason.
At a party before the surgery, both families met and learned more about one another. Jason presented Heather with a fun gift which made everyone laugh! It reads, “I gave him my kidney and all I got was this lousy shirt.”
“The process to find out if I was a match was a lot to go through,” said Heather. “It’s not just one blood test. So many days, so many appointments. And with each one, you’re just hoping the test results will be good, and you can move on to the next step.”
“When the doctor called and said Heather was a match, I was very surprised,” said Jason. “Chances were slim. I kept waiting for a call back saying that it was all a mistake. It took a few days for it to sink in really. I’ve been battling kidney disease for about nine years and now I had hope. I’m so grateful to Heather. There are 100,000 people on the waiting list and I found a match on the first try. It’s unbelievable.”
Co-worker Jake Cole wasn’t surprised to hear that Heather donated her kidney to Jason.
“She’s the type of person that takes care of everyone else. It’s remarkable what she’s done and it goes above and beyond expectations,” he said. “It translates a message of teamwork, of camaraderie and that’s something we preach at No. 4 steel producing. We try to be a family and her generosity exemplifies that we’re a family here.”
Doctors performed the surgery on December 27, 2017 – also Heather’s birthday.
“That day became Jason’s new birthday,” said Heather. “It was the best birthday gift for me because I was able to give him the gift of life.”