Every day for three years, Ausnes went to her local Seattle Starbucks for her usual morning coffee. She developed a casual relationship with the barista that soon percolated and ultimately saved her life.
Sandie Andersen, 51, a chatty server who struck up conversations with her regulars, had no idea Ausnes had spent the last seven years on a kidney transplant list and was getting sicker and sicker.
But one day last fall, Andersen noticed a sadness in Ausnes' voice and pushed her to talk about her failing health. Told that Ausnes was in dire need of a transplant, the barista offered to be tested to see if she was a candidate to donate her own kidney.
To women's surprise, Andersen was a match. This March doctors successfully transplanted Andersen's kidney into Ausnes.
"This is a miracle, an absolute miracle," Ausnes told ABC News one day after their four-hour transplant surgery. "None of my family members tested were matches. I was facing a life of five to seven years of dialysis and worsening health. She saved me from that."
"I didn't think I'd feel this good so soon," said Ausnes, who was able to get out of bed and see Andersen in her room for a "nice little visit."
Ausnes lucked out. But many of those on the national waiting kidney list have had to go through much more to find a suitable match.
Garet Hil, founder and president of the National Kidney Registry, was amazed to find how difficult the process could be when he tried to find a kidney donor for his then 10-year-old daughter in 2007.
Hil went through five relatives who failed to match antibodies and signed up for every paired kidney donation list in the country he could.
One problem, Hil realized, was that paired donation programs were using a matching algorithm that only allowed for a single family-to-family exchange.
"I have a 10 percent chance of matching and donating to your family member, and you have only a 10 percent chance of donating to my family member then the chances of each paired donation are 1 in 100," Hil said.
The experience motivated Hil, who has a business background, to found the National Kidney Registry for so-called chain donations, where one family member of a kidney recipient donates to another family in need, who donates to another matching family in need until a large pool of matching kidneys is created.
Hil's registry uses new matching algorithm that allows for donation chains. Along with the cooperation of 20 of the country's largest transplant centers has already led to 39 transplants in the past year. Hil said his registry is growing.
"Our volume seems to be doubling every six months," he said.
ABC News's Susan Donaldson James contributed to this report.
Even before sisters Joy Lagos and Maeapple Chaney became the first women to undergo a whole ovary transplant in 2007, they were no strangers to donation.
When Lagos suffered from cancer a few years ago, Chaney donated her bone marrow to save her life. Lagos survived and recovered, but the cancer treatment left her sterile.
Years later the sisters discovered that not only did that bone marrow transplant save Lagos, it allowed doctors to later transfer Chaney's ovary into Lagos without fear of rejection.
Normally an organ recipient would reject donor tissue -- even from a sister -- unless it was from an identical twin. To keep any donated organs, patients must forever take powerful anti-rejection medication.