Crosstown heroics: White Sox fan saves Cubs fan's life with kidney donation

  • Lombard resident and Cubs fan Bridget Kolls received a new kidney -- donated by a White Sox fan -- July 8.

    Lombard resident and Cubs fan Bridget Kolls received a new kidney -- donated by a White Sox fan -- July 8. Courtesy of Advocate Health Care

  • Lombard resident Bridget Kolls meets Chicago resident Thomas Alessio, who donated a kidney to her. Kolls underwent a kidney transplant July 8 at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

    Lombard resident Bridget Kolls meets Chicago resident Thomas Alessio, who donated a kidney to her. Kolls underwent a kidney transplant July 8 at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. Courtesy of Advocate Health Care

  • Lombard resident Bridget Kolls underwent a kidney transplant July 8 at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

    Lombard resident Bridget Kolls underwent a kidney transplant July 8 at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. Courtesy of Advocate Health Care

  • During a May 2019 game, a member of the Cubs media department found Lombard resident Bridget Kolls and her brother. Their picture was shown on the Jumbotron during the game and then it was posted on the team's Twitter account.

    During a May 2019 game, a member of the Cubs media department found Lombard resident Bridget Kolls and her brother. Their picture was shown on the Jumbotron during the game and then it was posted on the team's Twitter account.

  • Thomas Alessio, a White Sox fan from Chicago, saved the life of Lombard resident and Cubs fan Bridget Kolls last month by donating one of his kidneys to her.

    Thomas Alessio, a White Sox fan from Chicago, saved the life of Lombard resident and Cubs fan Bridget Kolls last month by donating one of his kidneys to her. Courtesy of Advocate Health Care

 
 
Updated 8/21/2020 6:54 PM

She's a devoted Chicago Cubs fan, but Lombard resident Bridget Kolls is convinced that Chicago White Sox fans aren't so bad.

In fact, one White Sox fan in particular is pretty darn amazing in her book.

 

"No one has done anything this big for me ... ever," Kolls said.

Thomas Alessio, a White Sox fan from Chicago, saved Kolls' life last month by donating one of his kidneys to her, and the entire transaction between these two strangers originated from a social media post by the Cubs about Kolls' need for a kidney.

Alessio, 32, just happened to see the post and felt compelled to act, and thus began a yearlong "relationship" between the two that culminated with a successful surgery on July 8 at Advocate Christ Medial Center in Oak Lawn in which the 23-year-old Kolls received Alessio's kidney.

Both Alessio and Kolls are healthy and doing well six weeks post-surgery and have accepted an invitation from the Cubs for them, their families and their medical teams to attend next summer's crosstown series between the Cubs and the White Sox.

"It's been a crazy 3 years for me," Kolls said Friday morning on a Zoom call with Alessio and local media. "One of the best moments (in the hospital) was that they did Thomas' surgery first and when they were done, they rolled his bed past mine and I got to wave to him. That was so cool.

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"My family, my friends, everyone who is in my life is so appreciative of Thomas. To Thomas, I say thank you for letting me live again."

Kolls was diagnosed with kidney failure in 2017 and with lupus in 2018. She first noticed a problem in April 2017, when she started having serious problems with her eyesight.

"I was 20, and my retinas were completely detached and my blood pressure was through the roof but I felt fine except for my eyesight. I started getting some tests, and they found that both kidneys were scarred. Then they told me I had Stage 5 kidney failure and that I needed dialysis right away. I started doing that three days a week, for four hours," she said.

Several months later, she was put on the national transplant registry. No one in her family was a match.

By February 2018, Kolls was also diagnosed with lupus and was having trouble breathing and functioning normally.

"I had to change my two job to part time because I couldn't manage my dialysis and my jobs," Kolls said.

In the meantime, Kolls was also trying to spread the word about her need for a kidney.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In May 2019, she and her brother got extra Cubs tickets from their uncle. Kolls emailed the Cubs and told them that she would be coming to the game with a sign about her need for a kidney.

The sign read, "This lil' Cubbie needs a kidney" and included a phone number for fans to call to learn how they could help.

During the game, a member of the Cubs media department found Kolls and her brother and took a picture of them with the sign. That picture was shown on the Jumbotron during the game and then was posted on the team's Twitter account.

That's where Alessio came in.

"When I saw the post, I just kind of went for it," Alessio said, who had donated plasma in the past and was registered on the national bone marrow transplant list. "In terms of my thought process, I've always figured that if you're able to help someone, you have an obligation to do so. I never really had any second doubts; it was just, 'Hey, this is what I'm doing.'"

Alessio texted Kolls right away and let her know that he was going to initiate the process of becoming a donor.

It took months of tests and messages back and forth, but in February Kolls got the call that she had a donor, and it was Alessio. Kolls was scheduled for surgery on March 26, but then COVID-19 hit and that delayed everything. Twice.

Finally, in July, the big day came, and surgery went off without a hitch.

"This is an awesome story because Thomas has given Bridget the gift of life," said Dr. Deepak Mital, the kidney transplant surgeon. "Here's a young lady who suddenly is afflicted with this terrible autoimmune disorder called lupus, and her life was turned upside down. And then Thomas comes along and (sees the post) and decides to give her a kidney. This is truly altruistic where he wants to help somebody with no expectation of any reward.

"Thomas is the real hero, and Bridget is no less because she underwent all this suffering on dialysis and kept up her spirits and both of them did really well."

Kolls and Alessio both say they are expected to make full recoveries. They also expect to stay in touch, but they do not expect to change each other's baseball allegiances, although they joke about that now.

"She should be more of a Sox fan now," Alessio said of Kolls, who responded firmly but diplomatically.

"This will not change my allegiance to the Cubs," Kolls said with a smile. "I'm still just a die-hard Cubs fan, but I respect all Chicago teams nonetheless."

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