Maddie Balde will forever be a devoted fan of the Huron High School girls soccer team.
That's because the team's coach, John Barcus, donated his kidney earlier this month to Maddie. The gift has allowed the 13-year-old to enjoy a life of freedom she has been denied for the past two years. A kidney disease chained her to a dialysis machine for eight hours a day and sapped her energy.
"We're just thankful," Maddie's mother, Patty Balde, said of Barcus. "What else can you say? He gave Maddie freedom and saved her life. When someone does that for your child, you can just imagine how you feel."
"No 13-year-old should have to live like that," Barcus said of what motivated him to donate his kidney.
The bond between Barcus, Maddie and Patty is palpable. On a recent sun-drenched afternoon, the three talked about the transplant experience while looking out over the soccer field behind McCormick Middle School. When Barcus discussed his apprehension that Maddie's body might reject his kidney, Patty's eyes filled with tears.
Maddie appears no worse for the wear. She talks about how she immediately felt better after the surgery. She shows off with pride the 17 stitches that run down her tummy -- a reminder of the surgery -- and talks about how she can't wait to go swimming again in the next couple of weeks.
"There's a bond there that will never be broken," Patty said of the connection between Barcus and her oldest daughter.
Patty and Tim Balde knew for years that Madison could face kidney problems. Then, two years ago, a doctor delivered the devastating news: "You need to come in next Wednesday and start dialysis."
That sentence was the beginning of an ordeal the family is glad is over. Every night Maddie found herself hooked up to a dialysis machine in her bedroom. The procedure was so tough on her body that she couldn't get up for school in the morning and had to be home schooled. And there were also the pills Maddie seemed to always be taking-- 22 a day. The family was forced to use the bedrooms of Maddie's three younger sisters, Carolyn, 12, Jill, 10, and Claire, 9, to store medical supplies.
Maddie eventually became strong enough to be placed on a donor list for a kidney. Neither Patty nor Tim Balde's A blood type matched Maddie's O blood type. Patty said there was one relative who had O blood, but he only had one kidney.
Patty works at the Huron Public Library as the adult services assistant. That's also where Carol Barcus, John's wife, is employed as the teen librarian. Carol overheard Patty talking about her search for a kidney donor and knew that her husband was an O blood type.
Carol told him about the Baldes' story and he decided, after some soul searching, to undergo a test to determine if he would be a suitable match for Maddie.
"It's one thing to take the test, but if you're a match I didn't want to back out," Barcus said.
Barcus, who works as an air traffic controller, and has three grown sons, said one thing ultimately led him to decide to donate his kidney.
"For me, the biggest thing was I put my wife Carol and I in Tim and Patty's shoes and just thought what a terrible ordeal they've gone through and what Madison's gone through and then to find out they're not a match, I just couldn't see how I could say no," Barcus said.
Barcus' family supported his decision.
The transplant surgery took place July 8 in Cleveland at University Hospital's Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital. Waiting to find out how Maddie's body handled the transplant was the toughest part, Barcus said.
"I was terrified of letting her down until I finally heard her body accepted the kidney," he said.
The Baldes visited with Barcus in his room hours after the surgery.
"That was a pretty emotional," he recalled.
Coming home to a slew of calls and messages from well wishers helped Barcus realize the significance of his selfless act.
"It's been a big eye opener," he said. "The whole thing has been an amazing experience."
By the numbers:
2003 Kidney transplants in the U.S. -- 15,137.
Source: Organ Procurement and Transportation Network