Hero Firefighter Who Was Under World Trade Center When It Collapsed Donated His Kidney To Save Stranger’s Life

A firefighter holds shovel at 9/11
Shawn Baldwin / AP Images

A retired New York City firefighter who survived a broken neck during the attacks on 9/11 and was the only one out of 13 from his Upper West Side firehouse to make it out alive, got the chance to be a hero once again, reports the Daily Mail. This time he saved the life of a special education school teacher who lives 3,000 miles away in Orange County, Calif.

Last holiday season, Kevin Shea, 51, donated his kidney to Lois Knudson, 59, who had already lost her mother and sister to the same degenerative disease that was threatening to take hers as well and who had been in need of this kidney transplant for four years. Interestingly, Knudson grew up in New York City where she admired firemen, so when she learned her donor’s former profession, she couldn’t believe it.

“It’s absolutely a miracle!” a thrilled Lois Knudson told The New York Post at the time. “I will never need another Christmas gift.” Luckily for her, she’ll get to celebrate all those future Christmases thanks to the generosity of a complete stranger. This past Thursday in New York, the two met for the very first time, but that wasn’t an easy task. Privacy laws don’t allow donors and recipients to meet, so Knudson wasn’t originally told of her donor’s identity.

The Post was there on Dec. 5, 2017, when the surgery took place for Shea in New York. It was not your average donation tale. He had signed up with a program that allows living people to donate organs anonymously. Only 1 to 2 percent of all living donations happen between strangers, with it usually being a family member or friend. “Knudson was eligible for the Shea donation because her niece, Jessica Ellis, was also donating her kidney to a stranger as part of a national ‘chain’ of altruistic donations,” reports The Post. When her husband, Tom, heard the news that a donor had been found, he wept. They have been married 30 years and because of her disease and the risk of passing it on, they chose not to have children. Instead, she became a teacher and poured all she had to give to her students.

“After Post inquiries into the unusual organ-donation case, Shea agreed to tell his story and Knudson signed consent forms that allowed the teacher and retired firefighter to finally learn each other’s identities.” They exchanged a couple of texts and phone calls, but this past Thursday, the pair finally met at The Post‘s office. There was a very emotional hug, as the two joked around a bit but made it clear that they would be friends for life. “Absolutely. Whether he wants me or not. He’s stuck with me!” she said.