Under the bright white lights of an operating room, doctors worked for hours – longer than anyone expected. The patient’s wife and his friends from church waited on bated breath, fearing the worst was happening to him.
A lot was riding on his surgery, after all: he was in the midst of a kidney transplant, during which he’d give one of his healthy organs to a friend – one of the three people nervously waiting at the hospital – who would die without it.
But during the first man’s surgery, something completely unexpected happen: doctors found that he, too, had a life-threatening condition that had to be addressed right away or he would die. And, for two families, everything hung in the balance until doctors brought them news from the operating room.
Almost six months before his surgery, Pastor Tim Jones didn’t even know the man to whom he was donating his kidney. At that time, he had just started Mercy Independent Baptist Church in Kannapolis, North Carolina. To raise funds, he threw a craft and bake sale on October 27, 2014.
In order to get to know his new congregation, Jones had set up an aptly named “Meet the Pastor” table at the front of the event. He even hand-selected the music he’d play during his meet-and-greet – and made sure to turn the volume up for his favorite song.
It turned out, “Sow Mercy” by the Gaither Vocal Band wasn’t just the pastor’s favorite tune. “A stranger named Don Herbert was drawn to my table,” Jones recalled to TODAY. “It turned out that ‘Sow Mercy’ was his favorite song, too.”
With that, an instant bond was formed, but the two men wouldn’t realize how special of a connection that had been until later on. First, Herbert’s life would unravel when doctors at Duke University Hospital told him he was in dire need of a kidney transplant.
Herbert had stage five kidney failure, which is often called “end-stage renal failure,” according to the National Kidney Center. Most patients who receive this diagnosis have a mere 10 to 15 percent of their kidney function left, causing side effects from fatigue, anemia, and nausea, to breathing difficulties and seizures.
Things wouldn’t get easier for Herbert after that devastating news, either: after his friends and family members underwent testing to see if they were viable donors, none were matches for the “rigorous requirements,” as described by Jones. So, Herbert’s wife, Belinda, used social media to reach out, hoping someone from outside their inner circle would step up.
That post was enough to sway the Herberts’ pastor. “Something inside me said I needed to help, and I agreed to take a test,” said Jones. And it turned out, it was pretty lucky that he did: “My blood was a one in 20,000 perfect match to be Don’s kidney donor,” he added.
So, on March 9, 2015 – less than six months after Herbert and Jones met at the “Meet the Pastor” table – the pair prepared to undergo surgery. Doctors would operate on Jones first in order to remove the kidney before Herbert’s transplantation surgery.
“Our wives waited with Don for three hours, then five, then seven hours,” Jones recalled. Needless to say, “they worried,” Jones said, with doctors’ lack of updates leaving everyone to wonder, “‘What’s going on?’”
It wasn’t until doctors wheeled Herbert into surgery that the wives would find out Jones’s fate. During the surgery to remove one of the pastor’s kidneys for transplantation, doctors had found something that could have taken his life, too.
It was an aneurysm in Jones’s renal artery, which was invisible behind his kidney until, of course, he had surgery to remove the organ. Jones’s prognosis without the doctors’ discovery would not have been a good one, either.
He said, “The bulging vein was like a ticking time bomb. When it ruptures, there is near-certain death.” But because doctors had found the aneurysm before that devastating breaking point, they could remove it – and save the pastor’s life.
After the six extra hours of surgery incurred by Jones’s hidden arterial blockage, he was on the mend – and his doctors couldn’t reiterate how lucky he was. Jones told Fox News that the medical team told him, “Tim, you saved Don’s life today, but in the process, you saved your own!”
Of course, Jones’s wasn’t the only life-saving surgery that took place that day. Both men recovered well from surgery, and, a year after the operation, the Herberts commemorated the anniversary on their shared Facebook page, saying, “One year ago today, a surgery to save one life became a miracle and saved two lives.”
Jones had a similar sentiment when he spoke to the Salisbury Post. “God used the story to save both our lives,” he said. “If I hadn’t listened to God’s voice to give my kidney, I might not have been here much longer.”
Herbert had a more difficult time telling Fox News what Jones’s gesture meant to him. “It’s hard to find words to say what I feel in my heart now for what he’s done for me,” he said. “Words can never convey the gratitude that I have for what he’s done, such a selfless thing to give a part of him to save me.”
Speaking to WBTV, Herbert urged others to be as gracious as his friend, Pastor Tim Jones. “Nobody wants to help anybody anymore,” Herbert said, “But I’m glad that there are still some people that are willing to help.” Like Herbert once did, more than 100,000 in the US alone await a new kidney, while less than 17,000 organs are donated.