Seattle Barista Gives Gift of Life to Ailing Customer

Two strangers -- donor and recipient -- met across an espresso bar.

ByABC News
February 10, 2009, 6:26 PM

March 14, 2008 — -- 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.

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.