Peter Lyford was a dying man; at least, given that he had stage-five kidney disease as well as diabetes, the outlook wasn’t good at all. However, not about to give up on him, his family put out one last message for someone – anyone – to help. And while their methods were a little unorthodox, it prompted a phone call one night that would change their lives for ever.
Peter’s wife Jennifer Lyford knows only too well about people in need. She works part-time as a case manager for adults with special needs, while also studying nursing full-time at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Jennifer married Peter more than 20 years ago, and together they have two daughters: 19-year-old Annie and seven-year-old Charlie. Peter also has a daughter from a previous marriage – Dana, who is 30. In January 2014, though, the whole family was shattered when they received some devastating news.
Tragically, Peter was diagnosed with kidney disease – of which there are five stages based on the kidneys’ ability to function. But while the early stages can be managed, Peter’s kidneys were already at the last one. His only chance of survival, then, was through dialysis or a transplant.
Jennifer would tell the Worcester Telegram in July 2015, “It’s end-stage renal disease. His hypertension and his diabetes have contributed to the lack of kidney function and the progression of the disease.” When he was diagnosed, moreover, Peter was just at 33 percent kidney function.
Jennifer continued to the newspaper, “He was always told when he got down to 13 percent [function] that he would need dialysis.” However, before long, Peter’s kidneys were determined to be at only eight percent function. At this stage, then, his only chance of survival with a decent quality of life would be if a donor came forward.
The truth was that Peter had never been in the best of health, having needed heart surgery after suffering a heart attack more than a decade before his diagnosis of kidney disease. His own father, meanwhile, had undergone three triple bypass heart surgeries by the time he was Peter’s age.
And Peter tried to ride out his illness for more than a year; when he was hospitalized in April 2015, though, he made a choice to focus on survival. As he told the Worcester Telegram, “[I’d] kind of been fighting it up to that point and just trying to slug along.”
With a donor Peter’s only chance of survival at this point, then, his family duly went in search of one. Fortunately, Peter has O-positive blood – thought to be the most common blood type in the U.S. – which increased his chances of finding a donor. As a consequence, he was placed on a waiting list in order to find a suitable match.
The list, however, would mean an agonizing two-to-seven-year search for a dead donor’s organ, offering him an increased life expectancy of as much as nine years. But if the family could find a living donor, he could live for as long as almost 20 years.
And, if the wait wasn’t painful enough, none of Peter’s family members were found to be suitable donors. Jennifer had a different blood group, whereas other family members whose blood matched were either not in good enough health or were simply too old. They were running out of options – and time.
By that point, moreover, Peter needed dialysis every five hours, with his health deteriorating rapidly. Then Jennifer had an idea. Making the most of the fact that she spent a lot of time on Massachusetts’ roads, she turned her car into a mobile billboard. The marker-scrawled message on the rear windshield was simple: “My husband needs a kidney. O blood. Please call.”
She got the idea from a friend who had read a story about another person who needed a kidney and successfully obtained one in the same way. If it could happen to them, then, why not her? And as people started noticing the car and the message, they started sharing it on Facebook. Strangers, too, began coming forward, willing to help.
The family also contacted local news to help spread the story, which helped draw the attention of Kelly Hoye. Upon seeing the plea from the Lyfords, she thought, “That’s interesting. I’m an O positive.” But a matching blood group wasn’t the only thing that gave her an overwhelming urge to help.
The newscast had also shown a picture of Peter’s three daughters – and it was then that Kelly was moved into coming forward as a potential donor. She told WCVB Boston, “My father died when I was young and he was sick since I was five. So I know how it felt to be them.”
So Kelly made the call and passed the screening process. The good news proved too much for Peter, though. Upon receiving a call from the hospital, he suffered a series of small strokes. Then he lost his job and health insurance with it – and on top of all that, he then needed to have his kidneys removed early.
Having come this far, however, Peter wasn’t about to give up, despite being in a lot of pain. And not all was lost, either: the strokes caused no lasting damage, and most of the medical costs would be covered by the National Kidney Foundation and a GoFundMe page. Moreover, Kelly was still willing to proceed despite the setbacks.
So, on May 24, 2016, Peter and Kelly – two complete strangers – became bonded forever when Peter received a new kidney and a second chance of life. Kelly never once questioned what she was doing, despite the gravity of the gift she was giving.
Indeed, at a reunion cookout to celebrate the success of the transplant and a new, lifelong friendship, Kelly told WCVB Boston, “Right now I think it’s hitting me because it’s overwhelming. But for the longest time I just did something I knew was right.”
And the surgery has proved to be a complete success. Even better, Peter is doing well with a renewed energy and a new, loving friendship with his kidney donor. “She’s like my new sister,” he told WCVB Boston of the bond – one that ultimately came from a hopeful message scrawled on a rear windshield.