It’s not every day a stranger offers you a kidney.
But 7-year-old Madison Belz had not just one — but 10 — such offers in a matter of days.
It all started with a social media post her mom, Brooke Balbi-Belz, shared after the family received some bad news.
“I put it on Facebook just hoping maybe somebody in our family or friends would get tested (to see if they were a match),” Balbi-Belz said Tuesday.
The response went far beyond what she hoped.
A friend shared the post to the Bluffton/Hilton Head Ask and Answer page.
“Can we find this local girl a kidney donor? O Positive,” it read.
In a few days, Balbi-Belz’ it had more than 70 shares and 47 comments.
Her inbox was flooded with messages.
“‘How can I get tested? How can I get tested?’ That’s what they all kept asking,” she said. “These people didn’t even know her and they were offering their body parts.”
Diagnosed in the womb
Madison was diagnosed with cystic dysplasia before she was born. Her mom was four months pregnant when doctors gave her the news.
The prognosis wasn’t good, they said. Her daughter only had a 60 percent chance of survival.
They gave Balbi-Belz the option of a medical abortion.
But she comes from a family of fighters, Balbi-Belz said. They weren’t giving up.
Madison started her life on medication. Her diagnosis meant she had cysts on her kidneys.
Her organs weren’t going to last long.
By the time she was five, Madison was in stage 5 kidney disease.
“When we moved here 9 months ago from North Carolina, we realized that Madison wasn’t doing so great,” Balbi-Belz said. “Her kidneys weren’t sustaining her growing body.”
Beginning last Septemeber, Madison had to use a catheter. She was 6 years old.
But when she returned to her first grade class at Pritchardville Elementary the next week, the support she saw from the community was evident.
“She walked in her classroom this morning (and) a little boy started clapping his hands,” her mom wrote in a Facebook post. “Everyone came up to her and hugging her and saying how much they miss Madison. Made my heart full.”
Madison started dialysis up the next month.
She’d reached end stage kidney failure.
Time for a donor
She needed a donor.
Her mom’s older sister April Balbi got tested. She got a certified letter saying she was a 100 percent match.
The family was thrilled.
Then the doctors called. They said she was no longer a match.
“All of our plans were completely destroyed,” Balbi-Belz said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
The doctors told the family that Balbi had antibodies in her blood that would attack her niece’s delicate system.
“They said it would kill Madison after a few months,” Balbi-Belz said.
That’s when Balbi-Belz turned to Facebook.
“So today we got some devastating news,” the post read. “... I am asking to my family and friends, my husband’s family and friends, if you could find it in your hearts to think about maybe donating a kidney to her, I wouldn’t even have the words to thank you.”
Balbi-Belz said 10 strangers sent her messages saying they wanted to donate.
Even those who didn’t have the same blood type — or couldn’t be donors for other reasons — offered prayers and words of encouragement to the family.
“Talk about being overwhelmed and touched,” she said. “It was just incredible. There are good people in this world.”
The day of love
Three days after that initial phone call, the doctors called again.
“The surgeon came back from vacation saying the tests were re-done and (my sister) came back a match,” Balbi-Belz said.
She said the doctor explained it like this — Her sister’s blood was imitating a different blood type, making the doctors think she wasn’t a true match.
“He said, ‘This never happens to me, but I’ve got a cancellation a week from today. Let’s do this.’” Balbi-Belz said. “I almost fell to the floor.”
So today — on Valentine’s Day — Belz is finally getting her kidney.
“It’s funny because I’ve always hated this day,” Balbi-Belz said. “But it’s going to have a different meaning for me now.”
She can finally call Feb. 14 the day of love, she said.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” she said. “My sister is giving life to my daughter.”