Video courtesy: Erica Burns via Ochsner Health

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — A Louisiana firefighter has a new lease on life after she received a gift like no other from an unlikely hero thousands of miles away.

Our story starts with a Denmark woman named Marianne Poulsen. For more than two years, Marianne’s husband, Michael, was in desperate need of a kidney transplant but much to her dismay, she was not an organ donor match.

Although enrolled in a Scandinavian donor exchange program, the couple was unable to find a match until they enrolled Michael in an international registry that paired him with a donor in Ohio. In May of this year, Michael underwent the procedure that would end up saving his life.

As part of the program, Marianne joined the donor list so even though she may not have been able to help her husband, maybe she could give someone else a life-changing gift. Just a few months after Michael’s procedure, Marianne learned that she was a perfect match for Stephanie Morel, a firefighter from Tangipahoa Parish.

At 19, the Loranger native was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (PKD), a disorder that causes clusters of cysts to grow on the kidneys. This causes the kidneys to expand and eventually lose function. Stephanie says the disease is hereditary.

“My father and all his siblings have the disease, and they have all received kidney transplants,” Stephanie explained. “I knew when I was diagnosed that I would eventually need a kidney transplant, too.”

After undergoing a life-changing procedure through the international program, the first of its kind at Ochsner, Stephanie has since recovered and says her health has drastically improved. Her feet no longer swell and she no longer becomes short of breath after walking. She says she has enough energy to not only take care of her family but also return to a career shaped around helping others with her husband, who is the Loranger fire chief.

In August, Stephanie, Marianne, and their loved ones were introduced in an emotional gathering that they say will become a lifelong friendship.

“Marianne and her husband, Michael, were amazing. He and I bonded over similar experiences, and it was like we always knew each other” said Stephanie. “They even invited us to Denmark! I remember sitting beside Marianne thinking ‘this woman flew halfway around the world to give me her kidney.’ How amazing is that?”

And our story doesn’t there, either. Like Marianne, Stephanie’s sister enrolled in the international donor program to give the gift of live that has been given to her family. As part of what’s called a “paired kidney chain,” it’s only a matter of time before we find out where the love of others will take us next.

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