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Facebook friend leads to new kidney for author's former teacher

Brad Meltzer's social media blitz helps Ellen Sherman find match for kidney transplant

MIAMI – It's a story worthy of a bestselling author. The connection between Ellen Sherman and Amy Waggoner was actually set up by one.

Sherman had lived with kidney disease for more than a decade when she was told in 2013 that she needed a new kidney.  The retired teacher mentioned it to a former Miami Beach Senior High School student of hers -- New York Times bestselling author Brad Meltzer.

"He always mentions me in his books as a character or an acknowledgement," Sherman told Local 10 News.

Meltzer posted a request on Facebook, asking if one of his more than 100,000 fans would be willing to donate. In the post, Meltzer admitted, "Maybe I'm insane." On the phone, Meltzer admitted that he still can't quite believe it worked.

But it took some time. More than a year went by without a matching donor. One woman was a match, but tests revealed that she had a tumor that she hadn't previously known about. Her willingness to donate likely saved her life.

In January 2013, Meltzer posted again to Facebook and Twitter. He was mining social media for a miracle. Meltzer writes political and historical thriller novels. He just started a children's series on historical figures and hosts a show on the History Channel's H2 television network.

"Who do I owe more to than my history teacher," Meltzer said.

That second post did the trick. Amy Waggoner, a 36-year-old graphic design artist from Virginia and a friend of Meltzer's, saw the post. She sent him an email but didn't hear back. A couple of weeks later, she tried again, sending the author a Facebook message. Meltzer, who gets hundreds of messages, saw his teacher's name and responded. Waggoner admits being aggressive about it was out of her nature.

"I am not a person who will willingly go to a doctor," Waggoner said. "You can drag me there kicking and screaming. I have to be dead or dying to go to the doctor. When I saw this, something beyond myself compelled me to get the test."

Waggoner was a perfect match. On Aug. 26, Dr. Michael Goldstein performed the successful transplant at Jackson Memorial Hospital. On the day of the operation, Meltzer visited both teacher and donor in their recovery rooms. Sherman and Waggoner said their relationship immediately went from strangers to family.

"My hero, my savior, my new friend for life," Sherman said of her donor.

Goldstein said she "got a perfect kidney from a perfect person."

Waggoner will be recognized by Meltzer in his next novel. He plans to name a major character after her.

Follow Eric Yutzy on Twitter @EricYutzy

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