A Match Made in Heaven

Jackie Tyner was born to save a life. With O negative as her blood type — the universal donor — Tyner has always known she had the ability to help and heal when no one else could. What she didn't know is that one day, that help would hit close to home and the life she saved would be a lifelong friend.

Fast friends, firm faith

Dawn Chase met Jackie Tyner in 1980, the first time the 16-year-old high-school junior ever attended a Young Life club in Tonawanda, N.Y. (near Buffalo).Chase, then 27, was a leader and not long after, became Tyner's friend.

Tyner "instantly loved" Young Life. She immediately got involved and attended a Campaigners weekend where everything clicked.

"I had a strong faith, but I didn't have the language for it," Tyner remembered. "That weekend, it all came together for me, it all made sense. My relationship with God filled out through Young Life."

When Tyner went to college, she became a volunteer leader. And Chase began to disciple her.

"We did a study on women of the Bible and met every week for several months," said Chase, who was a high-school special education teacher. "I was 10 years older, but it didn't matter. That's where our friendship cemented."

The pair continued to work with Young Life, serving on assignment together at Saranac while Tyner was in college. In the summer of 1986, Tyner met Randy, her soon-to-be fiancé, while at Sailing Beyond in Malibu, British Columbia. When she brought Randy home to Buffalo, Chase was one of the first people he met. Later, when their son was born, Chase became his godmother.

"Our relationship kept going through the ups and downs of life," Chase said. "We were encouraged in our faith by each other."

Tyner said, "Dawn didn't have her own children, so she loved our kids and was always making the trip to see them. We didn't make our relationship a priority, it just was. Dawn constantly stayed committed and incredibly supportive of me."

Side-by-side through suffering

Chase and Tyner stayed involved in Young Life through the years as well. The Tyners helped start Young Life in Queensbury, N.Y., and Chase was on Young Life committee in Buffalo. The pair did program for a women's retreat at Saranac from 1995-2001; Randy wrote their skits.

Chase had always struggled with her health, but in 2001, found out she needed a double lung transplant. She received her lungs from a cadaver and the procedure was successful. The anti-rejection medication, however, had some serious side effects and two years ago, she was told she needed a new kidney.

Doctors gave her two options: get on the transplant list for a cadaver kidney. The problem was, there were 93,000 people in line ahead of her and the doctors didn't think she would survive the wait. Or, get a kidney from a living donor. The recovery rate was faster and the success rate was better. But first, you had to find a match.

"When I told Jackie I needed a living donor transplant and what that meant," Chase said, "she abruptly ended our (phone) conversation. It was so unlike her. She said, ‘Dawn, I've got to go. I'll call you back.'"

Tyner, knowing she was a universal blood donor, immediately turned to her husband and said, "I really think I need to be tested to be the donor." And Randy said, "Let's pray about it right now."

Five minutes later, Chase's phone rang. It was Tyner: "It's going to be me," she said. "I'm going to do it."

The gift of life

Emotions ran the gamut the next several months. Chase would call Tyner sobbing and say, "It's not too late! You can change your mind!" while Tyner was "caring, but logical."

Twelve people — including three cousins — offered to be a donor for Chase. After months of testing and praying and setbacks, Tyner emerged as the best match.

"It came down to, my blood didn't fight as much with hers," Tyner explained. "I never felt pressure, and I never worried. That was God. We truly believed if God still has work for Dawn to do, then this is what needs to happen."

Chase added, "Our motto became, it's God's story. He knows how this ends. There are lessons He wants us to learn."
The successful surgery took place May 2 at the University of Pittsburg Medical Center. Chase had a few scary moments, but says today she "feels better than I have in a long time."

Tyner has since hiked through the Adirondack mountains and traveled to Europe with Randy to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.

"I'm no martyr. The decision wasn't hard," Tyner said. "Dawn needed something and I could help. The question is not really why would I do it, but why wouldn't I? That's what Young Life is about — what are you doing with your life?"

Chase wants to spend the rest of her days living the answer to that question. She volunteers with Unyts, an organ and tissue procurement organization in western New York, telling her story to community and school groups in her area.

"Young Life is still so much a part of what we do in our everyday lives," Chase explained. "It affects everything you do. Once you do it, it never leaves you."

Chase knows her life is a gift and cites Philippians 1:6 ("Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.") as a clear promise to her from the Lord. She trusts He will show her what's next.

"I wish there was a way to say thank you," Chase said. "All I can do is the best I can to live the life God wants me to live. I'm looking for Him to give me direction. I've had more than one chance; I want to be faithful."

Chase and Tyner's long history is a blessing, and now — thanks to a sovereign combination of generosity, God's grace and genetics — they have a future. Chase's investment in Tyner more than 30 years ago has reaped the ultimate return: the gift of life, from a lifelong friend.