In December 2019, Rachel Schultz and Nicole Gaborek met for the first time at Rush University Medical Center. Gaborek had just successfully donated her kidney to Schultz.
Fast forward to February, when Schultz and Gaborek met once again, this time at the United Center.
The two weren’t meeting as donor and recipient but rather two friends, enjoying a night out that included lots of smiles, laughs and the Chicago Bulls’ Feb. 6 game against the New Orleans Pelicans. The Bulls highlighted the women’s inspiring story with a video during pregame warm-ups.
Shultz is a Harvard, Illinois, native who was diagnosed with an incurable kidney disease known as Berger’s disease. While at first she was treated with powerful immune suppressants, she eventually had to rely on kidney dialysis every day. She started to research other options, leading her to the Rush Living Donor Program, through which healthy people with the same blood type can donate one of their kidneys when they are still alive.
Most living donors are family member or close friends of the person receiving their organ for transplant. When none of her family members of close friends proved to be a match, Schultz and her friends began what she calls “the very strange process of looking for a complete stranger who would give me a kidney.”
Her search for a donor included social media posts, outreach to a variety of groups and a message shared by a Rockford country music station that led to an urgent Facebook post. Gaborek saw the post and knew she had to do something. She reached out, and after being a confirmed donor match, Gaborek was able to successfully donate a fully functioning kidney.
The two have a deep bond that was visible at the United Center. As the video played on the Jumbotron, the two hugged, smiled and shed a few tears of joy. They caught up on life over drinks, popcorn and high-flying dunks.
It all started with a question on Facebook: “Could you be the one to save Rachel Schultz’s life?” Now Schultz and Gaborek have made a connection that will last a lifetime.