"This is happening more and more," said Howard Nathan, founder and CEO of the Gift of Life Institute in Philadelphia. "People have anonymously said they want to donate a kidney and show up on the transplant center door saying, 'I want to help somebody. I have done well in my life, and I want to give a kidney.'"
In 2007, the Rev. Karen Onesti, a Methodist, offered her kidney to Rabbi Andrew Bossov, after they met at an interfaith religious conference in New Jersey. One year after the successful transplant, Bossov told the Courier Post, "It's nice to know there can be friendships that last through the years and new friendships that blossom with such great consequences."
Both stories underscore the need for live donors, which have a higher success rate than transplants that come from cadavers. According to Nathan, more than 74,746 Americans are waiting for kidneys. Another 97,755 are on wait lists for other organs, such as hearts, livers, lungs and pancreases.
In kidney transplants, patient survival is 98 percent for living kidney donations and 96 percent for deceased donations. "That means the recipient is still alive, even if the organ failed," said Nathan.
While it is more desirable to have a good genetic match like Andersen and Ausnes', donors and recipients only need be the same blood type and can be unrelated. The first kidney transplants were only done on identical twins, but now, with new medications to prevent organ rejection, "matching has become less important," said Nathan.
Only 15 years ago, just 2,500 kidney transplant recipients were living. Today, that number has risen to 7,000, due to advances in medicine and safety.
The living donor procedure itself has been reduced to a laparoscopy with three small incisions to remove the kidney. Donors are discharged in less than a week.
"There is almost no mortality," said Nathan.
Howard D. Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, called both women when he learned of the transplant. He called Andersen and told her "how proud I am to have someone like you working for our company," according to The New York Times.
This is not Andersen's first good deed. She has reportedly done missionary work in Mexico and volunteered to dig mud out of houses after Hurricane Katrina.
Ausnes has returned the favor and been a Good Samaritan herself. She is making sure her guardian angel is well looked after. The barista will be out of work for six to eight weeks, so Ausnes organized a fundraiser to help.
"I didn't want her to be in financial trouble," Ausnes said. "So we're helping with house payments."
Within weeks after their first November encounter, the women began a friendship, and their husbands went out to dinner. Both hope to continue that relationship.
"I've not only gained a part of her, I've gained a friend for life," said Ausnes. "Sandie is an amazing lady. She is a lot of fun and has a wonderful, humorous personality."
The women — once strangers separated by an espresso bar — now share a special legacy: Ausnes' future.
"I'm going to get to see my granddaughter grow up," said Ausnes. "I'm going to get to retire with my husband … I have my whole life ahead of me now."