Location: Helena, Ala.
About four years ago, Paula Kok, a network support specialist at AT&T (No. 12) and a former electronics technician in the Navy, desperately wanted to donate her bone marrow. Her husband had leukemia, but she wasn’t a match, and neither were any of their friends or family. Though her husband was able to join a medical trial that put his cancer into remission, Kok couldn’t shake the thought of being at the mercy of a stranger matching her husband, she says. “The Holy Spirit said to me: You’re someone’s stranger.”
She contacted the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital (UAB) and said she wanted to donate her kidney to a stranger. After a battery of tests, Kok went under the knife in December 2013. Though she didn’t want to know who her kidney recipient was, Kok eventually met her at a UAB event. It turned out that the woman, Lornette Stewart, had also served in the military, and the two women trained in the same Navy boot camp, in sister companies, in 1986. In truth, Kok didn’t just donate one kidney, but—in manner of speaking—45. That’s because Kok set into motion a kidney donation chain that UAB claims is the country’s longest on record. Each transplant patient has had an individual donate a kidney to a stranger on his or her behalf. For example, Stewart’s daughter, Jovi Williams, donated a kidney as Stewart prepared to receive Kok’s. A 46th stranger-to-stranger kidney transplant at UAB is scheduled for later this month.