MADISON, Wis. - For hairstylist Debra Ward, every cut and every trim builds a bond with her customers.
"You know a lot about their lives and they know a lot about your life," Ward, who works at Silver Shears Salon on Madison's east side, said. "It just becomes a great friendship."
For Ward, no bond is quite like the one she shares with one of her customers, Chuck Miner.
Ward has been cutting Miner's hair since 2010 and since then, she's gotten to know him through all his ups and his downs, including his fight against polycystic kidney disease.
"I recently had to start dialysis back in 2015," Miner said. "Polycystic kidney disease is something that just keeps getting worse as time goes on. It doesn't get any better. It won't ever get any better."
Going through dialysis meant a lot of pain and it meant Miner had to wear a catheter around his neck going into his abdomen.
During one haircut, Miner, who lives in Sun Prairie, said Ward noticed the catheter.
"She says 'What's that string?' She said 'I can't even trim your neck,' because the string was cutting into my neck,'" Miner said. "I told her what it was and she kind of got angry at me and said, 'Why don't you get a kidney transplant?' And I said, 'Well, it's not that easy.'"
A few weeks later, that moment led to something that would change Miner's life forever.
"Probably about the second or third time after that, she says, 'Well I have the same blood type as you.' Necause we had talked about blood types during that ensuing time," Miner said. "She says, 'Why don't I donate a kidney to you?'"
It was a suggestion that took Miner by surprise."I jokingly said, 'Oh come on, you're kidding me, right?" Miner said.
But Ward wasn't kidding. She reached out to the transplant coordinator at UW Hospital and found that she and Miner were a match.
"I'm a pretty religious person and I figured it was fate," Ward said. "He was brought into my life for a reason and I could help him."
"She told me, 'I want you to have a lot of years left with your daughter,'" Miner said. "I have an 18-year-old and she started college."
Ward's own family was skeptical about the operation, but she said she was steadfast about helping Miner.
"My kids would say, 'Mom, what if I need a kidney?' you know? And they said, 'Mom, don't do it, don't do it,'" Ward said. "I said, 'Well, I could save somebody's life.'"
So that's what she did. Now Miner has one of Ward's kidneys.
"All I can do is thank Deb," Miner said. "She has a huge heart, very compassionate."
Now the two share laughs and a deep bond.
"Now we get together and play Yahtzee once in a while," Ward said. "We have fun and he's my new friend and his girlfriend and his kids."
Ward said she wants others to be able to build their own bonds.
"I'm hoping that more people out there will donate and save somebody else's life," Ward said.
Ward said she was inspired by another customer who succumbed to kidney disease.
"I'm here to live. I'm here to enjoy life. I'm here to use that kidney," Miner said.
Miner will likely have to take anti-rejection medications for the rest of his life.
According to UW Health, almost 2,500 people in Wisconsin are waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant.
To learn how you can become a living donor, visit UW Health's living kidney donor website.
Visit Donate Life Wisconsin learn how to become an registered organ donor.
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