2018-08-15 / Home

Moved by Facebook post, Pittsburgh woman donates kidney to local dad

Bill English and Amy Pauvlinch were pictured shortly before they both underwent surgery at Jefferson University Hospital on July 3.
Bill English and Amy Pauvlinch were pictured shortly before they both underwent surgery at Jefferson University Hospital on July 3. Amy Pauvlinch with the English family. Pictured (from left) were Laura, Miles, Bill, Julian and Amy.
Amy Pauvlinch with the English family. Pictured (from left) were Laura, Miles, Bill, Julian and Amy. By JAYNE JACOVA FELD

Voice staff

Until very recently, Pittsburgh resident Amy Pauvlinch knew next to nothing about live-organ transplants, and certainly had no burning desire to give her kidney to a complete stranger.

There really is no logical way to explain what drew the 28-year-old Olive Garden server to Bill English, his wife Laura, and their two young sons. Yet the moment she laid eyes on “Be Our Daddy’s Hero”--a Facebook page created to raise awareness of Bill’s desperate need for a kidney replacement--she felt a connection with the Bellmawr family.

“I didn’t wake up one day looking for a person to donate my kidney to, but I have been searching my whole life for something to be passionate about,” explained Pauvlinch. “It was as if something greater than myself was telling me this is what I was meant to do. I knew that this was the family.”

Both underwent surgery on July 3 at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia--she to have her kidney removed and he to receive the healthy organ--and feel like changed people. Although it is still within the first three months when recipients are most vulnerable to organ rejection, by all accounts the kidney is doing its job. Bill grows stronger by the day. He can now play with his children without easily tiring and looks forward to rebooting his career as soon as his doctor clears him medically. Pauvlinch is already back to work at the Olive Garden, which has been supportive during her medical leave of absence. Both are forging new paths as advocates for organ donation. And their shared story--widely spread not only through social media channels but also on the pages of People Magazine and broadcast by the Today Show--has sparked awareness for the more than 100,000 people still on waiting lists for kidneys.

Pauvlinch is truly a hero in the eyes of four-year-old Julian and two-year-old Miles--as well as an inspiration to countless others.

“If nothing else, this journey has taught us just how fragile life is and at any moment it can change,” Laura wrote on Facebook. “We continue to be cautiously optimistic and make plans for the future filled with hope and good health. We thank Bill’s hero for this gift and the ability to imagine endless possibilities for our family.”

Throughout most of Bill and Laura’s years together, making future plans was simply not in the cards. Diagnosed with end-stage renal disease in 2015--around the same time they learned that Laura was pregnant with their second child—Bill’s life over the past two-and-a-half years has revolved around his three-times-a-week dialysis treatments and the quest to find a replacement kidney. With no family members willing or able to donate an organ, he was placed on official waiting lists for a kidney from deceased donors. But the average wait time is five to seven years for the region.

In the hopes of increasing the odds, Laura created “Be Our Daddy’s Hero” in 2017 to chronicle Bill’s journey. While some posts were related to renal disease awareness campaigns or medical breakthroughs, others are simply snapshots of the family in action. Some showed Bill on good days, playing with the kids or video chatting with his children from the dialysis center. In one, he is passed out on the sofa, exhausted after dialysis treatment.

“I’m uncomfortable being the center of attention,” said Bill, 35, who worked in car sales until he was laid off last year. “Laura definitely had my best interest at heart when she made the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts and started connecting with lots of other people in the kidney disease community.”

The M’kor Shalom congregants knew finding a stranger willing to give up a kidney was a long shot, but figured they had nothing to lose.

Pauvlinch had not at all been considering becoming an organ donor until she found the English’s social media post last August. Out of the blue, her Facebook feed scrolled to “Disney Dad,” a picture of another dad in need of a kidney taken in front of the iconic castle. The viral picture caught her attention so she started scrolling through the comments, mostly posted by other people seeking donors for live-organ transplants.

“There were thousands upon thousands of them, with everybody saying they have an aunt, uncle, cousin or daughter who needed a kidney,” she recalled. “Laura’s post was 700 comments down with a link to ‘Be Our Daddy’s Hero.’”

She can’t say why, but Laura’s post stuck to her like glue.

“After reading their story and looking at pictures of Laura and Bill’s two young kids, I had this instant moment of awe, that I was not meant to donate to anybody else but this family,” Pauvlinch said. “I thought about what it would be like if I didn’t have my mom or dad healthy when I was growing up. I wouldn’t be the person I am today. They shaped and molded my character. I felt so sad that this family was given such an unfair chance and realized there was something I could do to stop the unfairness.”

What she did was write Laura an awkward email introduction to express her interest in giving Bill her kidney.

Six minutes later, Laura shot back a response and the ball was rolling. As it turned out, Pauvlinch was a match for Bill. Over the course of a year, there were a series of tests and preparation requiring her to travel to Philadelphia before the actual surgery. She met the English family for the first time in November, first just with Bill and Laura and then the boys. All felt a strong bond, even before the operation.

Although there were setbacks--they had to switch to Jefferson after starting the process at a different hospital--Pauvlinch said there was never a point that she experienced second thoughts.

“I want people to know that organ donation is not scary,” she said. “I’m 28 and doing everything a normal person can do with just a little bit of a weight restriction. In another few weeks, I will be completely back to normal.

“It was the most magical experience I ever had,” she added. “The connection that Bill and I have at this point is such a special bond.”

Bill agreed, noting that her kidney has given him the ability to live life to his fullest. Besides work and family time, he is happy to use his 15 minutes of fame to help others in need of organ donations.

“I’ve gotten this gift of life and I want to help other people find their heroes,” he said. 

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