It all started with a leaky faucet.
James Love is a fit-looking man, but he was born with sickle cell anemia -- recently it's gotten so bad he's suffered from chronic renal failure. He needed kidney dialysis three times a week. Out of work and on disability, he'd recently moved with his wife and their six children to a rental home in Sleepy Hollow, Illinois.
But on one eventful day, all he wanted was to stop the constant drip-drip-drip from the bathroom. So his wife spoke with their landlord, Barbara Thomas.
Thomas fixed the faucet. Then she gave him a new kidney. Seriously.
"My friend, she's now my sister, Miss Barbara Thomas," Love said. "She's just a wonderful lady. She's a wonderful lady."
But Love didn't believe her at first. Plenty of people are quick to offer their kidneys, James says, but very few follow through with the donation. Plus, his O-negative blood type is rare. Only one in 16 people in the United States have it, according to the Stanford School of Medicine. While living on dialysis for three years, James had watched 11 people in his situation die.
And although one of Love's children and Thomas's son had been friends for years, the two parents had never met before he moved in last December.
But Thomas was determined. “I had to ask him three or four times for the information on how to get tested,” said Thomas who, in addition to her landlord duties, works full-time as a legal secretary in Chicago. “I don’t think he believed I would really do it.”
But she did it almost nonchalantly.
"It was like I heard a voice saying in my head, 'It is you.' I didn't really think about it. I just did it."
Thomas, who just came home from the Loyola Medical Center in Maywood, says she’s still sore. She’s taking a six-week unpaid leave of absence to recover. Love is coming off his IV this week, and should go home thereafter.
"All I just know, I had to trust God," Love said. "God will make a way for me to get a kidney. I don't want to put it off on somebody and say, 'Well, this person didn't get tested,' or 'This person, you know, drew back,' because the people that I'm surrounded with, they all love me. I have no doubt about that."
For her part, Thomas is not stopping with just one donation.
Taking over a small fundraising operation James started called "Heal With Love," Barbara filed for 501c non-profit status and she plans to start helping other families with medical bills associated with kidney transplants soon.
That's just what this landlord does: helps families, one leaky faucet -- and failing kidney -- at a time..