The day taxi driver Carol Hambright picked up Keri Evans for her first dialysis appointment, neither woman imagined they'd be part of two life-saving kidney operations.
Two years and 156 dialysis trips later, Evans, 52, of Midland Texas, still can hardly believe that Hambright volunteered to donate her kidney.
"A lot of people think that Carol and I have been childhood friends but I've only known her for two and a half years and for her to step forward and offer her kidney was… amazing," said Evans.
Evans said she wasn't told very much about her kidney donation options at her doctor's office after her kidneys began to fail due to complications from her type 1 diabetes. She even had to ask whether she was signed up for a kidney on the 80,000 people long national waiting list.
"I kept asking them, 'am I on a list or anything?' and they said 'yeah, yeah,' and I said we'll no one's talked to me about it," said Evans. "So on my own I started researching it."
The past five years may have brought more changes to the way the United Statestransplants organs than any time since the National Transplant Act of 1984.
In light of these examples, ABC News.com has compiled a list of some of the most groundbreaking and heartwarming organ transplant stories in recent years.
Taxi Driver Donates Kidney to Fare
Once Evans started asking about donation lists, a specialist suggested she could go to Methodist Specialty and Transplant Hospital in San Antonio, Texas, for review.
Evans said they told her they could help her if she had a living donor, but neither her elderly parents nor her 22-year-old son (himself at risk for developing diabetes) were good candidates.
Evans had already suffered neuropathy from diabetes from the waist down that left her in a wheelchair. She has neuropathy in her hands that left them numb, and suffered retinopathy while on dialysis.
It wasn't until Evans exclaimed "I give up, don't pick me up for dialysis tomorrow," when she returned from San Antonio with the news that she had gotten a living organ donor. Suddenly the idea of donating a kidney occurred to Hambright.
It turns out Hambright drives nearly 30 dialysis patients in her work.
"I talk to them all the same. But Keri's different because she was going to give up," said Hambright. "I said you can't give up. I'll give you mine. I got two."
Hambright, who isn't even an organ donor on her driver's license, surprised herself.
"I never even thought about before," she said.
Hambright's blood type did not match Evans but both women are now on a living kidney donor exchange list at Methodist Specialty and Transplant Hospital in San Antonio. Experts say the legality of such organ exchange programs was in question until Congress approved them in 2007.
"Now you have transplant centers that are supporting these paired donations, but also these chain donations," said Joel Newman, spokesman for the United Network for Organ Sharing, which manages the national waiting lists for diseased organ donations in the United States.
"Really up until 10 years ago, every person who was a living donor was family member. It's really only been in the last 10 years that we've been considering people with a passing relationship or a distant relationship," said Newman. "But there are still some transplant centers that are more conservative that are doing more family members, and close relatives. They don't have as much experience dealing with these kinds of cases."
But such cases are growing. While virtually unheard of 10 years ago, UNOS reports that 108 people donated a kidney to a stranger last year, 1,300 people donated a kidney to a chosen person who wasn't a family member and 249 people donated kidneys in a paired exchange in 2008.
This year, Hambright may join that figure.
Girl Has Six Organs Removed, Three Returned to Save Her Life
Like many amazing transplant stories, 7-year-old Heather McNamara was told numerous times that there was no hope.
McNamara was suffering from a cancerous tumor in her abdomen so large that it irrevocably damaged her pancreas, stomach and spleen.
At first doctors said the young girl's tumor was inoperable. But Heather's mother, Tina McNamara, said on "Good Morning America" that the family went from doctor to doctor looking for answers.
"We weren't giving up," she said. "We couldn't imagine turning around and saying we're out of options."
The McNamara family finally found a doctor who could help. This spring, McNamara survived groundbreaking surgery in which six organs were removed from her body to get to the cancerous tumor.
Then, during a 23-hour operation, seven doctors painstakingly returned the undamaged organs. McNamara was left without a stomach but doctors created a pouch out of her intestine to help her digest food.
Dr. Tomokai Kato led the surgery, which is said to be the first of its kind performed on a child. Kato performed a similar surgery on a Florida woman last year, led the team of seven surgeons through Heather's surgery. She is believed to be the first child to undergo this type of surgery.
While the surgery saved her life, the surgery left McNamara a diabetic and on a restricted diet normally given to gastric bypass patients.
Jonann Brady contributed to this report.
ABC News Colleague Gives Life Back to New Mom
ABC News had its own amazing transplant story in December 2008. ABC's "20/20" correspondent Bob Brown told the story of Joan LeFosse and Ani Mozian-Whitney, ABC colleagues whose work relationship turned into a lifesaving friendship:
Ani first experienced chronic kidney failure in her 20s -- doctors don't know why -- and she received a kidney transplant at the age of 25.
When she married Wil Whitney in her mid-30s, one of their goals was to have a baby, despite the additional strain it might put on Ani's transplanted kidney. It was a risk her doctors agreed to and Joan understood how much Ani had invested emotionally in the prospect.
"It's probably the greatest thing she's ever wanted in her life," Joan said.
The problems arose in the third trimester of Ani's pregnancy. Her kidney function began to decline. Doctors monitored her constantly, but saw no improvement.
Dr. David Cohen, the medical director of renal transplantation at New York's Columbia University Medical Center, noticed that "all of a sudden, from her perspective, things started to fall apart. We would go week by week, and when things really started to become problematic, it was clear that if we went too much further, we would endanger the mother and the baby."
The decision was to deliver the baby seven weeks early by Caesarean section. And if there was ever a doubt that Ani is a typically obsessive news producer, that was erased the day she gave birth -- Feb. 2, 2008 -- when she said to her anesthesiologist: "Don't forget to cue my husband."
She wanted to make sure that Wil had gotten the money shots with his digital camera.
The star of that moment was the girl they would name Madeleine H. Whitney. The H stands for hope.
"We were hysterical, crying for joy," Ani said. "And the most amazing photo came out of this."
"Our doctor is holding the baby out, and Madi's just reaching up into the air," Wil said, "like she's looking up to God. And there's a light coming down right on her. Little blessed baby."
Everyone hoped that Ani's kidney function would stabilize after that; it didn't. Measures of a chemical called creatinine, which indicates how well a kidney is working, were five times what is normal.
Mozian-Whitney and LeFosse had grown close helping each other through personal losses, and camaraderie at work, where LeFosse gave Mozian-Whitney most of her assignments.
LeFosse was one of the first to hear that Mozian-Whitney needed a kidney and would be facing the exhausting ordeal of dialysis for the first years of her daughter's life. The wait for a kidney in New York often takes two to five years.
Bob Brown wrote:in reply to one of Ani's e-mails, Joan sent one that was uncharacteristically short. It said, "Call me."
"So then I called her," Ani said. "And she kind of started crying, and she said, 'you know, I'm ready to donate my kidney to you.'"
Joan described Ani's response. "All she said was, 'really.' In the softest voice I've ever heard. And then we cried. And we laughed."
Luckily, the two women were a match. Things went smoothly until shortly before the surgery, when Mozian-Whitney developed antibodies that would have attacked LeFosse's donated kidney.
Then, Dr. Alan Benvenisty, director of the kidney transplant program at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, tried a rare technique to temporarily remove the antibodies in Mozian-Whitney's blood.
It worked, and to this day, the friends and colleagues are celebrating their good health.
Bob Brown wrote: Joan was back at work in a few weeks -- healthier, she says, because of all the dieting and exercise she did preparing for the transplant. Ani returned three months after her surgery, in September. "Now," she said with a laugh, "I have the energy to wake up when Madi's screaming for the pacifier."
ABC News' Bob Brown contributed to this report.
Grieving Family Donates to help another in Distress
The Lawson family from Minnesota and the Cousineaus from California never wanted to be in the situation where they met.
Both were in a hospital ward fighting to save their young sons. Dominik Lawson of Taconite, Minn., was born with defective kidneys and needed a transplant.
By the age of 2 he was spending five days a week in a Minneapolis hospital undergoing dialysis. To complicate the donor process, his body made antibodies that made him a match for only 3 percent of the population.
Meanwhile then 9-year-old Evan Cousineau was being treated for a rare genetic disease called adrenoleukodystrophy.
The families met at the nearby Ronald McDonald House, and would greet each other until the Cousineau family tragically had to return home. Evan lost his battle in November of 2007.
Upon watching an ABC News story about Dominik from their California home, the grieving Cousineau family decided they would try to spare the Lawson's from their current grief.
Evan's mother, Mary Cousineau, decided she would volunteer to be tested.
"Honestly, I just knew that he needed a kidney and without it he might not make it," Mary Cousineau told ABC News. "And I couldn't imagine another family going through what we were going through."
Sure enough, after a few more months of reflection Mary Cousineau affirmed that she wanted to be Dominik's donor. She was tested, and despite the odds, Mary was a good match for Dominik.
In a six-hour operation, on May 21, 2008, Mary Cousineau successfully gave Dominik Lawson the kidney he needed.
"Of course, we say thank you, and we love you," Dominik's mother Kelly Lawson, told ABC News. "But I don't think you can ever express the emotion and the gratefulness that we truly feel. There are no words. It's a blessing every minute I look at him."
ABC News's John McKenzie Contributed to this report.
Second U.S. Face Transplant Patient Progresses
Just a handful of people in the world have undergone the total face transplant procedure James Maki did on April 9 of this year.
Maki is now even more of a novelty, since he has met the family of his donor, Joseph Helfgot who died undergoing a heart transplant.
In 2005 Maki fell onto electrified third rail of a Boston subway. He barely survived, but was badly burned and horribly disfigured.
Maki was unable to eat solid foods and suffered unbearable cruelty from onlookers, until he received the generous gift from Helfgot.
Maki's surgery was led by Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, director of the burn center at Boston's Brigham and Women's hospital.
When Helfgot's wife, Susan Whitman, met with Maki, she saw a trace of her husband.
"My husband had a very nice, Jewish nose. It's ... his, as you can see from the picture," Whitman said.
Whitman said that she will be happy when Maki can smile again.
"I'd like to be able to smile again, too." Maki said.
Maki's face is still numb, but he has hope.
"I can feel it coming back now," Maki said. "That's a long, long process. But I'm sure I'll get there."
Maki says he will become a donor after his experience.
"I would like to die knowing that some part of me is going to be used in a donation, to give somebody else a second chance, like I got one," he said. "You just pass it on."
ABC News' Margaret Aro and Brandy Zadrozny contributed to this report.
Seattle Barista Gives Gift of Life to Ailing Customer
Many people think of Starbucks as a lifesaver. For Annamarie Ausnes, her coffee habit turned out to really be just that.
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.
First Ovary Donation Gives New Life
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.
Chaney and Lagos aren't twins but the bone marrow transplant that saved Lagos' life from cancer had the side effect of making her immune system compatible enough with that of her sister's for her to accept the ovary.
"The reason they were perfect, is because Joy had already gone through the immune suppression that would be necessary for a non-identical transplant," said Dr. Sherman Silber, who performed the surgery.
"There was no question mark about it. We knew there would be no fear of rejection," said Silber, who is also the director of the Infertility Center of St. Louis at St. Luke's Hospital in Chesterfield, Mo.
Chaney says she did not hesitate at the chance to allow her sister to have a natural pregnancy.
"She's my sister," Chaney said. "I think anyone in that same circumstance would do the same thing; just not many people are put into that circumstance. I get to be the lucky one to have all these great experiences."
ABC News' Dan Childs contributed to this report