When the 62-year-old isn’t working as an executive assistant at Sauder Woodworking Co. in Archbold, Ohio, she’s usually busy serving the community. Sue volunteers for Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio, which transports U.S. military veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit war memorials. After her hour-long drive to Toledo Express Airport, Sue reports for duty at 4:30 a.m. at the red, white and blue reception area. She is also treasurer for Sauder’s Employee Emergency Relief Fund, which provides assistance to employees who have experienced a fire or other disaster that causes a severe financial struggle. At her church, First Lutheran in Stryker, she serves as financial secretary, volunteers at vacation bible school and is a Sunday school teacher. Sue participates in a ladies group called Willing Workers, which creates blankets for Lutheran World Relief, a non-profit organization that aims to eliminate poverty.
Since 1997, Sue and her husband, Lynn, have sponsored Vanessa, who lives in the Dominican Republic. Every month through Solid Rock International, a non-profit organization focused on transforming the lives of the poor in the Dominican Republic, they send money for Vanessa’s tuition, medical needs and meals. When Vanessa was in elementary school, she needed open-heart surgery, which inspired her to become a doctor. She was valedictorian of her high school class, and Sue and Lynn have been providing Vanessa’s college tuition. She will graduate from medical school next year.
Sue wanted to take her generosity to the next level, so she was tested to see if she would be a match for her friend Nancy, who needed a kidney transplant. They were not compatible, but Nancy did receive a life-saving kidney transplant.
“I saw how successful Nancy’s kidney transplant was – she had a new lease on life. I thought if I was willing to donate a kidney to Nancy, I could do it for someone else,” Sue said.
Sue started the process of becoming a living donor at The Ohio State University Transplant Center in January 2009.
One evening, Sue and Lynn were eating at Ten Pin Tap, a restaurant in Ridgeville Corners, Ohio. It was packed, and they saw Lynn and Bonnez, a couple they hadn’t talked with in a long time, so they invited them to sit at their table. As the Lynns were talking, Sue remembered Bonnez had some health issues and asked how she was feeling. Bonnez said she was okay, but her sister Macel was very sick and waiting for a kidney transplant. (The sisters had polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder that causes multiple cysts to form on the kidneys, which become enlarged.)
“I had not been matched yet to donate a kidney because I was working on being in excellent health to be an anonymous donor, but I thought I should get tested,” Sue said. “I told Bonnez about the process I had been going through to be a donor and asked her what Macel’s blood type was, and we had the same blood type.”
Sue was a match for Macel.
The transplant was set for May 28, 2010 at the University of Michigan Medical Center – something difficult for Sue, a diehard Ohio State University fan, to accept. A few days before that date, Sue and Macel were in the medical center’s lobby. Sue looked up and saw a woman in front of her who said, “You’re Sue, aren’t you?” That was the first time Sue and Macel met, and the reality of what Sue was about to do sunk in. Macel, who had been on the waiting list for a year and a half, was weak from dialysis and her lack of appetite, and her skin was discolored from her kidney failure.
“That’s when it dawned on my husband. He said, ‘You’re doing this for her. It has nothing to do with you.’ I still get choked up thinking about it,” Sue said.
On May 28, 2010, Sue saved Macel’s life.
The transplant was on a Friday, and both ladies were healthy enough to be discharged the following Monday.
Macel is eternally grateful to Sue.
“What do you say? I still struggle. Not too many people in the world would do something like that,” Macel said. “She is a wonderful person.”
She didn’t only change Macel’s life. Sue also saved the life of a 9-month-old girl when she donated a portion of her liver on April 4, 2012.
Sue wrote a letter to the little girl’s family, but she has not heard back.
Sue said she is still very healthy, and her scars are the only physical reminders of her surgeries.
Modest Sue does not see herself as a hero.
“God has blessed me with such good health, and he guided me through both of those transplants. It’s very rewarding and humbling to know that I helped two people,” Sue said. “I hope one person reads my story and says, ‘You know what, I can do that, too.’”