As we get older, the likelihood of life-changing moments goes up exponentially. This is not only due to the varied experiences that we find ourselves involved in as we get age, but because our bodies have done a heck of a lot more living than that of our younger selves.
This is the reason that cancer creeps up so often in older people than in younger. Yet, even in situations like this, all hope is not lost. There are thousands of treatments available for these days, even for the most debilitating, life-threatening diseases. And of course, every now and then, there is also a miracle…
Stanley Barsch was retiring from the Middletown Police Department. He had been with the department for most of his adult life and lived in the Middletown area for much of that as well. He had a family there, three children, a lovely wife, and a great job. But at 41, his situation was beginning to change.
It had all started that very December. Barsch had retired because he’d had no choice. He was living with serious health problems, the likes of which he had never encountered in all his life. Now, not only was he leaving the job he loved, he was in desperate need of some very serious help. Stanley Barsch needed a new kidney…
At the time, Barsch still had both kidneys but both of them were afflicted with a hereditary condition called polycystic kidney disease; something he had inherited from his mother. He was understandably concerned about the disease, mostly because despite the help and a transplant, it had claimed his mom’s life in 2017.
Polycystic kidney disease is a painful, often deadly disease which causes fluid-filled cysts to grow inside the kidneys. Many of these cysts can grow at once and can become so large that they change the overall shape and size of the kidneys themselves. This unfortunate side effect was what happened in Barsch’s case…
While a normal kidney is about the size of a fist, Barsch’s kidneys had become almost the size of NFL regulation footballs. Not only were they stretched and huge, but they also weighed at least 15 to 20 pounds a piece. This meant that they were no longer working to keep Barsch alive and were causing him untold amounts of pain.
Barsch kept his pain a secret until he retired but afterward when his doctor explained that he needed a kidney transplant to save his life, he put out a plea over social media. He spoke about his need for a new kidney and asked that if anyone knew anyone willing and compatible to please contact him. As it happened, someone he knew very well was watching the post with marked interest…
36-year-old Megan Ambrose was another retired Middletown police officer and a close friend of Stanley Barsch. She and Barsch had been partners on the beat in 2007 right after she entered the academy. Barsch was her lateral and through his patience, know-how, and bravery in the line of duty, he helped to teach her the ropes.
“There are no words that do our partnership justice,” she explained as she spoke about their beat together. “You experience things with your partner that you can’t really explain.” She added that the two of them had a department record for pulling over 43 cars in a single day. They were a good team until she was forced to retire early herself.
In 2012, Officer Ambrose was involved in a near-fatal car crash. She survived but her injuries forced her into early retirement. Her partner, however, didn’t retire until 2016, when his kidneys first began to show signs of his mother’s degenerative disease. They no longer worked together but they remained close friends. Close enough for her to take the test.
No Second Thoughts
When she learned that her former partner was in trouble, she didn’t hesitate to get herself tested for organ compatibility. She knew it was a longshot, but she had to try. “I didn’t even think twice about it,” she said in an interview with PEOPLE. Now all she had to do was wait for the results of the test…
Ambrose had informed Barsch about her intentions and though he was thankful, he worried that perhaps she might not be a good match. After all, they had the same blood type but a 100 percent match is almost unheard of in kidney transplants, except when it comes to a sibling. She had to take multiple tests before she knew about her compatibility.
Six days later and Ambrose got the good news. She was perfectly compatible and should she proceed, a kidney donation would most likely be successful. The doctors wanted to transplant her left kidney and she agreed emphatically. Now she just had to figure out a way to break the good news to her old partner…
She waited until February, the next month and three months from the scheduled surgery, to tell Barsch the good news. She even chose Valentine’s day, which was coincidentally National Donor Day, as the perfect day to surprise him. She invited Barsch and his wife to her home so that she could tell him “something important.”
As he arrived at Ambrose’s home, Barsch worried that perhaps his old friend had gotten cold feet. After all, kidney donation is no picnic. It means a lot of lifestyle changes for both parties, as well as a long and difficult recovery. He was a nervous wreck as he sat there, waiting for Ambrose to come in. When she did, she held a small piece of green paper…
“I got construction paper from my kids and started writing the letter,” Ambrose explained. She made sure that the whole moment was recorded. She wanted to see his face when she read what she’d written about the donation. It was a tense, emotional moment, but one that was well worth the wait.
Writing it Down
The letter on the green construction paper read; “So I heard urine need of a kidney. Want mine? Turns out that we are a perfect match… Not only on the job but in blood and organs too. You always had my back on the road and off. Now you can have my kidney.” Barsch and his wife broke down in tears and Ambrose and her husband were joining them before long…
Ambrose’s husband recorded the moment and it was shared over Facebook. Within a few short hours, the story had gone viral. They both agreed to share the story as a way of raising awareness about Polycystic Kidney Disorder and of course kidney donation in general, which many folks don’t know enough about.
Barsch also spoke to the press after the story went viral. “You can’t come up with a word for someone who is that selfless that they’d give up a part of their body,” he said of his partner. In the months that followed, the two made the proper preparations for the surgery. It wasn’t going to be easy but it was Barsch’s last hope…
The Same Surgeon
Ironically, the surgeon who operated on Barsch was the same one who did his mother’s kidney transplant 15 years earlier. Despite the hereditary disorder, Barsch’s mom had a good many years afterward before it came back. The hope is that Barsch himself will get the same or better odds in the coming years.
Two Friends, Two Kidneys
Barsch and Ambrose were right next door to one another during surgery and the priceless left kidney was implanted without a hitch. Both of them may only have one pair of kidneys between them, but they share a bond that is stronger than many in this world. And it’s all thanks to the power of love.