Seattle Barista Gives Gift of Life to Ailing Customer


Every day for three years, Annamarie 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.

Today, the two women are recovering at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash., each astonished at the chain of events that began over an order of "short drip, double-cupped" coffee and ended with a genetic match.


Early this week, in an act of magnanimous generosity, Andersen gave Ausnes her kidney.

"This is a miracle, an absolute miracle," Ausnes told one day after Tuesday's 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."

Wednesday, Andersen was feeling nauseated and in pain and couldn't talk to the press, but she is on the road to recovery, according to Alisha Mark, spokeswoman for the Virginia Mason Medical Center. Both women will stay in the hospital for about a week.

Husband Admires Selflessness

Andersen's husband, Jeffrey Andersen, said he admired his wife's selflessness for helping a stranger. "If you can save somebody's life, it's special," Andersen told the Seattle Post Intelligencer. "It's what Sandie wanted to do."

Ausnes, who works at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, had suffered from polycystic kidney disease for 20 years. Each day the condition worsened, and she worried that she would eventually not be a healthy candidate for a new organ.

The disease eventually leads to kidney failure. By November of 2007, her kidneys were functioning at 15 percent; at 12 percent, she would have required a transplant.

Part of her regular routine was to stop each day at the Starbucks on her way to work. "I order the same thing every day," she said.

"Sandie is so observant that one day she noticed I wasn't myself," said Ausnes. "I told her that I had health issues and, after a little more prodding, told her I was on the national kidney waiting list. Without hesitation she said she would take the test."

"I felt like a thunderbolt had gone through my body," said Ausnes, who urged Andersen to talk to her family first. The next morning the barista said her husband and kids were behind her "100 percent."

A few days elapsed, and Ausnes returned for her morning coffee. "I'm a match," Andersen reported.

As a line of customers weaved outside the door, the two "stood there bawling our eyes out," according to Ausnes. "She said, 'Maybe I'm you're angel,' and all I could think was, Yes, yes, she is an angel sent for me."

Looking for Live Donors

Ausnes and Andersen went public with their story in the hopes that live donors would consider gettng tested for transplant surgery.

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