When Christine Higbee spotted coworker, Zack Pacyna, working the day shift, she thought it was unusual since he usually worked nights. The next day, he was working the day shift again, but something else seemed wrong: Pacyna had a grayish pallor and Higbee felt concerned. She decided to approach him and asked what was going on.
He explained he was sick, suffering from Alport syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that damages the small blood vessels in the kidney. Pacyna, 26, has lived with Alport since he was 9, but over the past year and a half, he had to start dialysis. It left him tired, and he got winded doing easy tasks and could barely eat. Pacyna was seriously ill: His kidneys only functioned at 10 percent. He admitted to Higbee that he needed a kidney transplant.
“Heck, you can have one of mine,” Higbee, 45, said.
Pacyna thought she was joking and returned to work. The next day, Higbee approached him and asked what she needed to do to donate a kidney.
“I still kind of thought she was joking,” Pacyna told TODAY.
But she asked again the following day.
“I knew she was for serious,” he said. “It is pretty shocking. You don’t get someone just walk up to you and say, 'Hey I want to give my kidney to you.’”
While the two worked at the same Lowe's store in Venice, Florida, for seven years together, they weren’t close. Higbee just knew Pacyna worked faster than many other employees in the store. But she felt she had to donate her kidney. Her oldest daughter, Amanda Hawk, 24, is almost the same age and she hoped if Hawk needed help, someone would extend the same kindness.
“What if she needed one? I would feel terrible if nobody gave one to her,” Higbee told TODAY.
Her daughter, though, was worried about the donation. Higbee has seven children — what would happen if one of them needed a kidney?
Higbee told her daughter that they all have six siblings that can help. Pacyna needed Higbee because he was out of options.
When Higbee saw Pacyna looking particularly gray one day, she knew she needed to take action more quickly. She took an early lunch to get her blood tests and returned the paperwork. The two were a match and surgery was planned in October. But Pacyna got food poisoning and the surgery was moved to December 7, 2016.
The surgery was successful, but Higbee suffered an adverse reaction to some medication and her recovery took a little longer. But Pacyna felt great and asked his doctor for a note to return to work in a month. While Higbee was off for another week, she asked her co-workers to spy on Pacyna.
“My delivery drivers were watching Zack to make sure he wasn’t lifting more than he should,” she said.
But that wasn’t the only way co-workers helped. People took turns driving Higbee’s children as she recovered.
“There is a whole bunch of people in our store that we couldn’t have done it without them,” said Pacyna.
Since the surgery, the two have become closer. Now that Pacyna’s appetite has returned, they regularly go out to dinner and sometimes see a co-worker’s band.
Months later, Pacyna still feels impressed by Higbee.
“It is just amazing,” he said.