Diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease in 1982, Helms, 50, had recently been in such pain that he "nearly crawled into work some days," he says. In May he told his 14-employee team that his kidneys would have to be removed, necessitating either a long wait for a transplant or a lifetime on dialysis. (His wife, Jean, 46, a teaching assistant, is saving her own kidneys in case one of their three teenagers develops the inheritable disease.) A few days later, Nearing, who had worked for him for six years and had the same blood type, offered to help. "It was a bolt from the blue," says Helms.
A medical team grilled Nearing. "They kept asking if I was looking for something in return," she says. After convincing them she wasn't, Nearing, who has two young daughters with husband Steve, 50, a government manager, went under the knife, returning to work a week later (Helms came back Oct. 13). Sums up friend Leah Holmes-Bonilla, 36, who says Nearing inspired her to register as a bone-marrow donor: "She did a great thing."
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