When Barbara Thomas rented out her home to the Love family she didn’t know it would change her life forever.
“It was during the housing crisis of 2009 that I wanted to move, but knew that it wasn’t the right time to sell my home,” said Barbara. “When my son said he knew the family of one of his friends from school was looking for a place to rent, we decided to rent our home to them.”
As a landlord, Barbara would call over to the house to check-in and make any repairs as necessary. Over time, she noticed that the father of house, James Love, always seemed to be sick and in the hospital. She was later told by a member of the Love family that James was in dire need of kidney transplant.
“I immediately said I would donate my kidney to him,” said Barb. When asked why she would donate an organ to someone who was essentially a stranger, she said, “because I could, because it was needed and because it was the right thing to do.”
When Barbara told her boss at the law firm where she worked about her decision to be a living donor, her boss simply said, “you know you don’t have any vacation or sick time left.”
She went to her local hospital to see if any resources were available to help living donors offset any lost wages. There were not. Still, Barbara knew that giving this father the chance at life was the right thing to do and donated her kidney to him in 2009.
Life After Donation
After donating her kidney, Barbara quit her job at the law office and went to develop a living donation coordinator position at Loyola University Medical Center. After 5 years at Loyola, Barbara made the career jump to be an organ placement coordinator for Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network.
“I love what I do,” said Barbara. “I’m committed to advocating for organ and tissue donation because it’s not only gratifying work, but we make a positive difference in the lives of others every single day. It’s simply incredible.”
Barbara is so committed to spreading the word about living donation that she has even started up her own foundation called the Heal With Love Foundation. This foundation’s mission is to ensure that no one should ever have to choose between paying bills and saving a life. To date, her foundation has given away more than $35,000 to 56 extraordinary living donors.
Yet, Barbara’s passion for spreading the word doesn’t end there. In 2016, Barbara competed in her first ever Transplant Games of America. Transplant Games is a multi-sport festival event produced by the Transplant Life Foundation for individuals who have undergone life-saving transplant surgeries. This event is designed to increase awareness of the life-restoring importance of organ, cornea, bone marrow, and tissue donation through the lives of the athlete-recipients and the lasting legacy of their donors.
“Attending the Transplant Games was the most incredible experience in my life,” said Barbara. “To be there with thousands of transplant recipients and donors, all of whom have amazing stories of inspiration and hope, is truly inspiring. There’s nothing else like it.”
This August, Barbara and members of Transplant Life Illinois, a team of athletes/recipients/living donors from Illinois, will be participating in the 2018 Transplant Games of America in Salt Lake City. Barbara will compete in several swimming events, including the 500-meter freestyle.
“I never thought that renting out my home would make this kind of impact on my life,” said Barbara. “I have found a new home within the organ and tissue donation family and I hope that more people will support living donation, because through donation, incredible things are possible.”
Gift of Hope applauds Barbara Thomas and all the courageous athletes participating in the 2018 Transplant Games of America and honors all the donors whose generous gifts of organs and tissue have given new hope to people in need.
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