Pharmacist Donates Kidney to Customer After Falling in Love

Some romances build over dinner and flowers. This one blossomed over medication and dialysis.

What began as a simple pharmacist-customer relationship turned into much more for Julie Wallace and Justin Lister, who struck up a friendship, then a romance that led to Wallace giving Lister a kidney.

When they met a little more than a year ago, Wallace, 46, was working as a pharmacist and manager at Dillon's grocery store pharmacy in McPherson, Kan., where Lister, 26, was dragging himself in to pick up a cocktail of prescriptions for his kidney disease.

"He kept coming into the pharmacy, getting all kinds of medication and just looking really bad," Wallace told "I told him that if there's anything I can ever do for him to let me know."

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As it was, Lister was already getting help from his family, his friends and his church after a simple workplace injury led to an infection that threatened his life.

He was working in a machine shop when he got a metal splinter stuck in his right thigh. It became infected and triggered an auto-immune reaction that caused his body to attack his kidneys, a condition known as post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis.

"I went from being a healthy 25-year-old, active, working a lot, to ... being in a hospital for over a month straight," he said.

Quick Decline

While doctors rushed to figure out what had caused Lister's swift decline, he gained 60 pounds of water weight in a week as his kidneys shut down.

Eventually, he found himself at the hospital three times a week for five hours a day, hooked up to a dialysis machine. And even that wasn't without complications: Lister said he had 15 surgeries in a year to put catheters in and then take them out when problems arose.

"It was a pain in the butt," he said.

Since he couldn't work, his parents and church donations helped pay his rent and bills while his status of being in "end-stage renal disease" qualified him for Medicare coverage. He said he's still in litigation to get his medical costs covered by worker's compensation.

When Lister met Wallace, his kidneys were functioning at less than 10 percent.

Over the next couple of months, their friendship blossomed from casual conversations at the pharmacy counter to breakfasts out. Then Wallace started driving Lister to his dialysis appointments.

Eventually, they fell in love and, in March, moved in together.

"There was just something about Justin," Wallace said, pointing to his good attitude throughout his struggles.

Beating the Odds

Wallace said she broached the idea of being his kidney donor after attending classes with Lister as he prepared to get put on the kidney transplant list, where he would have likely stayed for some time.

But the odds of Lister's new girlfriend being a match weren't great. His mother had already been rejected as a possible donor.

"I just didn't ever consider it as a possibility," Lister said, "because the chances were so remote."

But tests showed that not only did they both have A-positive blood types, they were a tissue match as well. Still, Lister said, his relationship with Wallace didn't make it any easier to accept her offer.

"I felt funny about taking someone else's kidney," he said.

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