From the Magazine

How One Woman’s Journey to Get a Kidney Transplant Started With Her Son’s Gift of Life

When Carol Patrylo’s son Todd died, she donated his organs so others could live. Years later, she needed a new kidney. As if orchestrated in Heaven, her best friend, Cindy Mueller, not only stepped up to donate — but was a perfect match!

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A Challenging Life

“No, that’s okay, I’m fine,” Carol Patrylo told her friend, Cindy Mueller, when Cindy called to say she’d come by. But today was the 20th anniversary of Carol’s son Todd’s death. Cindy knew it was going to be a tough day, so she headed over anyway.

Carol Patrylo's son Todd
Carol Patrylo’s son, ToddCarol Patrylo

When Cindy arrived, she found Carol’s eyes were red from crying, and it looked like she hadn’t slept in days.

“I can’t even imagine,” she sighed, hugging Carol.

“It’s not just Todd — there’s something else,” Carol burst into tears. “The doctor says my kidney disease is at stage 4. I need a transplant, and it could take years!”

Cindy’s heart twisted. How much can one woman bear? she wondered.

Carol and Cindy’s Everlasting Friendship

Carol and Cindy met in 1999, when they were both working as aides at the same Crestwood, Missouri, elementary school. Older by 15 years, Carol quickly became Cindy’s mentor, and soon became her best friend — inside and outside of work.

Then, Todd was killed by a drunk driver. Carol was overcome by grief as she signed the papers to donate his organs, something she knew Todd would have wanted. He had such a big heart — three weeks before his death, he was doing outreach work in an orphanage in Mexico.

Tragedy struck again in the summer of 2000, as Carol spent her days taking care of her 19-year-old son Brad, who is on the autism spectrum. Just weeks after losing Todd, Carol’s husband Frank barely survived a massive heart attack. Through it all, Cindy was there, offering her friend love and support. With major depression, therapy and medication didn’t help.

Carol tried to stay strong for her younger son, Brad. But downplaying her emotions led to overeating, and over the years, the weight gain took its toll. “Those extra pounds are straining your kidneys,” the doctor warned, reviewing her test results. “You need to watch what you eat.”

But the sorrow was too heavy, and Carol felt that her heart was just too broken. As her body weakened, she developed even more of a sweet tooth and grew exhausted. Work became such a struggle that she had to retire. Her kidneys got even worse and she had to start home dialysis.

Now, the news was even more grim. A transplant was Carol’s only hope of surviving.

Cindy thought back to how selflessly Carol had donated Todd’s organs, and to the lives she’d saved and changed. She deserves the same chance, Cindy thought.

“You can have one of mine,” she offered.

A Miraculous Match for Kidney Surgery

“No! I can’t ask,” Carol protested, but Cindy wouldn’t take no for an answer. “I’m doing this,” she said.

And soon, tests revealed Cindy was a match. But there was a glitch. Like her friend, Cindy also has a sweet tooth. “My blood sugar is too high,” she called Carol in tears. “I’m pre-diabetic. They won’t take my kidney in case it gets worse and my kidneys fail.”

“You tried, that means the world to me,” Carol said, resigned to her fate.

But Cindy wasn’t ready to give up. I can’t lose her, she thought.

The Power of Love

“No more cake or candy for me,” Cindy told her husband, Dan. She went shopping, stocking up on veggies, fruit and fish.

“I’ve lost three pounds already, and I’m just getting started!” she called and told Carol mere days later.

Cindy continued eating right and started exercising. It wasn’t easy, but whenever her determination faltered, she reminded herself: My best friend needs me.

Carol was inspired by Cindy’s devotion. A part of her had thought it would be wrong to be happy after Todd’s death. But so many people loved her. She vowed if she got her transplant, she would embrace life again. It’s the best way I can honor Todd’s memory, she realized.

Doctors had agreed to retest Cindy if she lost 20 pounds, but after six months, she’d shed 54! “I haven’t felt this good in years!” Cindy told the doctor. And sure enough, her cholesterol, blood pressure, and sugar had all improved significantly.

“I’m giving you a kidney!” Cindy shared the happy news with Carol.

The surgeries took place in December 2020, and today, at 66, Carol feels better — physically and emotionally — than ever.

“God truly blessed me with a friend like Cindy,” she says.

“God orchestrated every bit of this,” Cindy insists modestly. “He gave me the chance to save my friend, and to adopt a healthy lifestyle for myself. Our friendship is a blessing to us both.”

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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