CIRCLEVILLE, Ohio — Troy Fletcher, of Circleville, had been waiting for a kidney donation for two years.
In January, he thought he would finally get off the list when a kidney and a pancreas became available only to be told by doctors that it wasn't.
Feeling depressed, Fletcher wasn't sure if he'd ever get a chance to receive a kidney that's not ravaged by Type 1 Diabetes.
"I've been diabetic since I was 16," he said.
The disease he kept secret from his closest friends.
Fletcher, who is an avid poker player, needed a winning hand.
The 40-year-old man has been sick for five years and was down to last chips.
Even his poker buddy of 10 years Joe Hedges didn't know and neither did Hedges' fiancé Shawana Mitchell
"I knew he was sick, but I didn't know. I just knew he was sick," Mitchell said.
For 10 years, Fletcher and Hedges would meet at poker tournaments such as the VFW in Circleville.
"We would play every Tuesday [and] every Friday. That's how a lot of us in the community know each other," said Fletcher.
On March 4, there was a tournament at the VFW and Troy was eager to win some money.
With six card players at the final table, Hedges gets up and complains of chest pain. Fletcher, his card-playing buddy, catches him before he hits the floor.
What happened next is nothing short of a miracle.
"I knew something was wrong and he walked over to me, and I said 'babe are you ok?' and he said, 'no, my chest is really hurting'," said Mitchell
"I roll him over and says something, but his lips are blue. I don't know what he said. I was so out of it. I wish I did because those could have been his last words," Fletcher said.
Hedges died several days later at 52 years old.
"I loved him so much. He was my soul mate," Mitchell said.
In the rarest of organ donation success stories, Fletcher received his kidney from Hedges who collapsed in his arms.
Not only is it almost unheard of, but the fact that both men were a match and neither was an organ donor makes it even more incredible.
Fletcher recalled receiving a call from Shawana, who was crying. She told him that he and Hedges were a perfect match.
"I lost a friend and got an angel, " said Fletcher.
If you're going to win at the game of life, it does help to be lucky.
"I'm the luckiest dude in the world," said Fletcher.
For Mitchell, she said she feels lucky too -- even in loss.
"Thankful and blessed that someone I love with all my heart could save someone's life," she said.
In 2021, Lifeline of Ohio facilitated the direct donations of five organ donors out of the 177 organ donors. This means that direct donation donors accounted for 2.8% of the donations Lifeline of Ohio facilitated last year.
Out of 463 organs transplanted, seven organs were direct donations equaling 1.5% of all organs transplanted were direct donations. According to OSU’s Comprehensive Transplant Center website, the average wait time for a deceased kidney transplant is 13.4 months.
You can learn more about organ donation here.
Ohioans may declare their wish to become a donor by registering online through LIfeline of Ohio's website. Individuals may also declare their decision when at the BMV.
The Ohio Donor Registry is an individual’s first-person authorization to donate the gift of life at the time of their death, if possible, through organ, eye and tissue donation.
Lifeline of Ohio encourages everyone to talk to their loved ones about their donation decision. When the next-of-kin knows their loved one’s decision at the time of death, it is one of the most helpful steps a grieving family can take to deal with its loss.