Akiba Allen is a single mom with three kids. She's upbeat, positive and always has a smile on her face. You'd never know she's battled health issues nearly her whole life.
"I want to be able to get up and go and just do things and enjoy my life, without being limited," Akiba, 40, told TODAY.com.
When Akiba was 17 years old, doctors diagnosed her with lupus. She's suffered from Raynaud's disease, pericarditis and most recently, kidney disease.
Because of low kidney function, Akiba spends 8 hours a day on dialysis to remove harmful waste from her body — and still manages to work and keep up her household.
"I know my children are watching me and I have to set an example for them," she said.
More then 26 million American adults suffer from kidney disease and it's the ninth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
The demand for donors is great. More than 100,000 people need a kidney transplant, but less than 17,000 people receive one each year.
With the wait for a new kidney typically three years or more, Akiba turned to MatchingDonors.com, an online database connecting patients with willing donors. She wrote a letter through the website and sent it to hundreds of potential donors.
"Not only will you be doing a good deed to help me restore my life, but you will receive your blessings," Akiba's letter read.
"If you do good you get good back to you," Akiba told TODAY.com. "I think that's the ultimate gift... to give to someone."
One of those people who read Akiba's letter was Sara Fleming, a 36-year-old accountant from St. Louis.
"If I needed a kidney, or one of my loved ones did, and we weren't a match for each other, I would have to rely on a stranger to help us out," Sara said. "How could I expect somebody else to do that if I'm not willing to do it myself?
From the time Sara decided to donate, she spent the next year visiting the doctor for tests, assessments and blood work. Once everything was complete, they scheduled the operation.
The day before the transplant, Sara met Akiba for the first time Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Virginia.
"Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!" an emotional Akiba said while hugging Sara.
"It's so nice to finally meet you," Sara told Akiba through tears.
"I am very grateful. You have such a kind heart. I am getting a new lease on life. I just want to thank you," Akiba said.
The next day Akiba and Sara had a successful kidney transplant. Both are now recovering well at home.
"The whole experience has taught me not to take life for granted, don't let the bad times get you down and keep pushing forward," Akiba said.