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Would you give a kidney to someone you barely knew?

On Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, at 7 a.m., John Hembree and David Edwards of McDonough, Ga., took part in the state’s first-ever “live tweet” of a robotic nephrectomy and living donor kidney transplantation at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital. Minute-by-minute updates, photos and videos of the two men’s surgeries were shared with the public via five of Piedmont Healthcare’s social media outlets: Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.

Would you donate a kidney to someone you had only met once? Prior to this summer, John Hembree had never asked himself that question. He remembers following the story of a member of his church who donated a kidney to another church member several years ago. “I was quite awed by that,” he recalls. Then, this past July, an NPR story about living kidney donation caught Hembree’s attention. Tucking it away, he didn’t mention the story to anyone for several days. After it began weighing more heavily on his mind, he brought up the idea to his wife. Hembree would soon learn that someone in his community needed his help.

Savannah, Hembree’s 22-year-old daughter, served as a church camp counselor and when she returned home from camp, she told her parents about a woman she had become close with, Pam Edwards. Edwards told Savannah that her husband David had been placed on a kidney transplant waiting list while they were at camp. When Savannah told her parents, “My wife and I both looked at Savannah, and she thought she’d done something wrong,” says Hembree. “That’s when my wife said, ‘Your dad has been considering giving a kidney away and he just didn’t know to whom.’” That was just the sign he needed to move forward with the process.

“To me, it was a confirmation of what I’d been considering – that it was actually the direction I should be going,” says Hembree. “The fun part really began when we anonymously began to be evaluated without the Edwards family knowing who it was.” Only three people knew Hembree was being tested as a possible match for Edwards. “Through the whole process, we had intentionally kept the Edwards family, as well as our immediate family, in the dark,” he says. “The Edwards family knew someone was being evaluated, they just didn’t know who. In fact, they even asked Savannah if she knew who it was. She said she had no idea.”

When Hembree found out he was a match – even though he was a non-relative – he wasn’t surprised because he knew it was meant to be. He and his family discussed how they were going to tell the Edwards family the news. At Savannah’s suggestion, Hembree decided to write a “handwritten, old-fashioned letter” signed by the family. He concluded the note with, “I have a 53-year-old kidney. Would you like to have it?” Click here for recipient David Edwards’ story. To learn more about living kidney donation, visit the Piedmont Transplant Institute.

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