A hero twice over: US paramedic saves lives of two people in one family

A hero twice over: US paramedic saves lives of two people in one family

Kristi Hadfield saved John Cunningham, a military veteran, in 2016 and years later, donated a kidney to his daughter, Molly

A paramedic who once restarted a US military veteran’s heart has now saved the life of that man’s daughter.

Kristi Hadfield’s life-saving heroics in benefit of retired marine John Cunningham and his daughter Molly Cunningham Jones earned a heartwarming narrative feature from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week, which went viral among social media platforms that aggregate uplifting news stories.

As the Post-Gazette told it, Hadfield met John Cunningham in 2016, when he walked into her paramedic station in rural Ritchie county, West Virginia, and reported feeling unwell. She loaded him into an ambulance to begin checking him out as he was brought to a hospital several miles away and his heart suddenly stopped.

Hadfield told the ambulance driver to pull over and on the side of the road, both of the paramedics mounted an effort to save Cunningham’s life. Hadfield performed chest compressions until Cunningham’s heart eventually started beating again, arrived at the hospital and – to see how things turned out for him – later sent him a request to become friends on Facebook.

The 72-year-old Cunningham, whose family has ties to a suburb of Pittsburgh, ultimately recovered well. And after accepting Hadfield’s Facebook overture, his daughter sent her own friend request to the paramedic, the Post-Gazette reported.

“We live in a very small town – I wanted to know who saved my dad,” Molly Cunningham Jones said to the news outlet.

Hadfield and Jones did not meet in person but shared jokes online with each other over the years. Then, in March 2022, Jones posted an update which was no laughing matter. Jones had been living with autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD), a congenital condition that caused fluid-filled cysts in both of her kidneys.

More than half of people with the disease experience kidney failure by the time they are 50 years old and at that point the only treatments available are dialysis or a transplant, the Polycystic Kidney Foundation says.

Jones, now 42, had been working full-time, coaching her teen daughter’s soccer team and walking three miles daily when told she was in kidney failure. Dialysis would buy her some time, but a transplant would afford her many more years with her daughter, Jones’s Facebook update said, according to the Post-Gazette.

“I don’t want to miss a thing with her!” the post added.

Within hours, Hadfield had replied to Jones asking how to find out if she was a match for the purposes of a kidney donation. They concluded they both had the same blood type, A+, and surpassed a major hurdle.

Hadfield, 56, told the Guardian on Tuesday she offered to help Jones without even talking to her family first. “I have kids, I have grandkids and I wanted her daughter to be able to have a grandma for her kids,” Hadfield said.

In July, Jones landed a spot on the transplant list and Hadfield immediately started the process of trying to donate her kidney, the Post-Gazette reported.

Hadfield’s decision was rare. Just 5% of people who donate kidneys at Pittsburgh’s University of Pennsylvania Medical Center – which treated Jones – are living, a top transplant surgeon at the hospital, Amit Tevar, told the Post-Gazette.

But her decision was also vital. Wait times for a kidney from a dead donor are more than five years, Tevar told the newspaper. Living donors also provide healthier organs and afford surgeons more flexibility when it comes to planning a transplant.

Hadfield and Jones met for a final compatibility check late last year. They cleared it, and two days after Christmas, Tevar took one of Hadfield’s kidneys and transplanted it into Jones. Jones regained kidney function almost immediately, the Post-Gazette reported.

While she’s been avoiding social gatherings to give her strained immune system time to recover from the transplant, Jones told the Post-Gazette that she is planning to have a party in December to celebrate her new kidney. Both women are looking forward to introducing the rest of their families to each other then.

Meanwhile, in the days leading up to the transplant’s half-year mark on Tuesday, they said they wanted to highlight the importance of organ donation. At the time they get or renew their licenses, motorists in the US can indicate that they are willing to donate their organs in the event of a deadly car crash.

“Please don’t take your organs to heaven,” Jones wrote on Facebook as she shared a link to the Post-Gazette story on her and Hadfield. “Heaven knows we need them here! Kristi, I love you forever for saving my life!”

Hadfield told the Guardian she was more humbled to have the chance to help Jones than proud to have seized the opportunity.

“I don’t see it as anything brave – just what we should do,” she said.



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