News OK | Jaclyn Cosgrove
Liz Gay meets Michalis Helmis at a hospital in Toledo for the first time. Gay, of Woodward, made the decision to donate her kidney to a stranger, and it turned out to be Helmis. The donation sparked the first intercontinental kidney exchange along with a chain of kidney donations. - Courtesy of Liz Gay
It's not easy to explain now, but at 8 years old, Liz Gay knew that she would one day donate a kidney.
Not just knew — felt called by God.
The 31-year-old Oklahoman doesn't pretend that it's easy to explain, but her premonition set off a historical chain of events that saved lives across the globe.
“I think most people have the idea that they want the world to be a better place and that there are things in the world that need to be changed,” Gay, who lives in Woodward, said. “And to think that I got to mildly participate in something that's changing the world, that's changing countries' laws and giving people the opportunity to get these kidney transplants to potentially live when they were dying — it gets me emotional.”
Gay is what's known as an altruistic donor, a healthy person who donated a kidney without a specific person in mind as the recipient. To start the donation process, Gay went to the Alliance for Paired Donation and signed up to donate.
Once she passed through the screening and testing process, a recipient was selected, a man living across the Atlantic Ocean.
Michalis Helmis, a resident of Greece, had been on dialysis for six years. Initially, his wife, Theodora Papaioannou-Helmis, signed up to be his donor. But when doctors ran the tests, they determined she wasn't a match.