While some may claim we live in a dog-eat-dog world, it's important to never underestimate the kindness of strangers.
Mitch Stone had lived his entire adult life knowing that slowly but surely, his fuse was burning.
"I've known for about 30 years I've had (polycystic kidney disease)," said Stone. "It's a hereditary disease and within the last two years, my kidney functions have gone downhill. About a month before my transplant it was down below 7 percent."
Mitch started doing less and less because of the pain and fatigue associated with the disease. He was forced to give up golfing, then he stopped leaving his house and eventually he couldn't even get out of his armchair in his living room.
"Basically he's lived in his chair for the past 15 months," said Cheryl Stone, Mitch's wife.
When Mitch's doctor told him he would need a kidney transplant to survive, the Stones didn't completely grasp the gravity of the situation.
"We were put on the list (for a kidney) at Buffalo General Hospital," said Cheryl. "Mitch and I thought we would have a kidney for him in a few months, but that wasn't the case."
"I had been told that I would have been on the list for three to four years before a kidney would have become available," said Mitch.
Every day, 14 Americans die due to complications while waiting for a kidney to become available for transplant.
Understanding that Mitch most likely did not have four years to wait, his doctor at Buffalo General Hospital suggested to him that he explore other avenues to find a kidney.
"Our doctor at (Buffalo General) and Dr. Cannone here in Jamestown gave us the address for the Western New York Kidney Connection website," said Cheryl. "However, we really didn't know what it was and we were still trying to grasp that he needed this transplant."
After a few days passed and the Stones has gained some resolve on the situation, the Stones finally went to the kidney connection website and posted a profile for Mitch.
"What we found out was that the more information and the more complete a profile was, the more likely it would catch someone's eye," said Mitch. "So we ended up putting down almost my entire life story."
According to the Stones, Mitch's profile ended up getting some hits and a few emails, however things still looked very bleak for Mitch.
"You get some calls from foreign countries trying to see how much your life is worth to you," said Mitch.
"We received an email from someone who wanted $80,000 plus money to cover medical bills, in cash," said Cheryl. "We got quite a few of those in the beginning and it really became quite frustrating."
And of course, even those who contacted the Stones with serious proposals still had to go through a screening process. According to the American Red Cross, only 7 percent of Americans have Type O negative antigens, which is the blood type that Mitch has.
"I couldn't even entertain proposals from my (siblings), because of the hereditary nature of the disease," said Mitch. "A day might come along where they might need a transplant as well."
However, through it all, the Stones did their best to stay strong.
"We knew all it would take was one person," said Cheryl. "I would literally tell everyone I knew because I truly believed that the person who could save Mitch's life was out there waiting to hear from us."
And on Feb. 10, the Stones' prayer was answered. The Stones had received an email from Diane Bookhagen of Springville, inquiring about Mitch's condition.
"She wanted us to update her on my situation and said she was interested in donating a kidney," said Mitch.
Through his fatigue, he found a way to celebrate the email.
"He was yelling upstairs, 'Cheryl! Cheryl! We've got one!'" said Cheryl. "I said, 'got what?' He said, 'we've got a woman who's interested in donating!'"
The Stones emailed Bookhagen back and encouraged her to fully consider the impact that a kidney donation would have on her life before deciding to go through with it. However, Bookhagen was absolutely sure she wanted to help the Stones.
"She assured us that she (wanted to donate)," said Mitch. "She had been a nurse from ECMC where I had the surgery done and the last four years of her job she was a donor-patient advocate for ECMC, so she assured us she knew what she was doing."
The Stones decided to not tell their children or friends until the transplant had a set date. The Stones and Bookhagen had continued communication through email and telephone until March 14. On that day, Bookhagen had made the final decision to follow through with the procedure. The transplant was set for April 23.
"I didn't realize it was going to go that fast," said Mitch. "But everything just sort of fell into place. I thought it was going to happen in June or July, but things just moved so fast."
The procedure went on without a flaw. Mitch is back in Jamestown at his home recovering from the surgery. He's still unable to anything that requires a great deal of physical exertion, however that will pass with time and he will be back to being his healthy self in a few months.
"I just still have a hard time believing I have someone else's kidney," said Mitch. "It's just really something."
The Stones are eternally grateful to both Bookhagen and the WNY Kidney Connection. Mitch claims that his friendship with Bookhagen will last for the rest of his life and that he will never stop being an advocate for the WNY Kidney Connection. Both of the Stones pledge to continually pay forward the generosity they've received by encouraging others to give the gift of life the way Bookhagen gave the gift to them.
"I would suggest to potential donors that they do their research and understand what they're getting into," said Mitch. "Past that, they should understand that their lives will have a deeper meaning and purpose for as long as they live. To know that you're the only reason someone else is still enjoying life isn't something that you can just brush-off no matter how humble you are. It's one of the most unselfish things an individual can do."
To those who are interested or curious about giving the gift of life just like Diane Bookhagen, more information can be found at www.wnykidneyconnection.org.