PEOPLE interviewed four selfless people who donated to those in need

By Caitlin Keating
January 08, 2014 12:00 PM

Each day, 18 people die waiting for an organ transplant.

If it weren t for the 11,800 selfless souls who donated an organ – many to total strangers – that death toll would be much higher.

“When I ask people why they donate an organ if they get nothing in return, they say it’s because it’s the human thing to do; to save a life when you can,” says Leo Trevino, manager of the Organ and Tissue Donation Initiative at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City

Here are some of those organ donor heroes:

Jason Nothdurft, 27, Logan Township, N.J.

Northdurft was browsing Facebook one afternoon and saw that Bill, 54, the father of a high school close friend, had posted a startling message. He said he needed a kidney and included his blood type.

“I had always been close to his children,” says Nothdurft, a police dispatcher. “so I decided to reach out.”

Notdurft was a match. The surgery will be on January 14th.

“People ask me a lot about what if my future children one day need a kidney,” says Northdurft. “I say, ‘What if they don’t need a kidney? What if I miss the opportunity to help somebody now because there is a slight chance I might need it in the future?’ ”

Michelle Junso Guardino, 47, Granite Bay, Calif.

Like Jason, Guardino was browsing Facebook when saw a post from Lance Ward, an old high school friend from she had lost touch with

He needed a kidney.

After seeing he had the same blood type as her-0- Guardino didn’t hesitate to offer to get tested.

She was a match and the transplant was August 2. Both are doing fine.

“It was one the most rewarding experiences of my life,” says Guardino, a former teacher. “How can you not help someone when you know you can?”

As for Lance, he can t imagine his life today without her.

“This has very little to do with me and everything to do with what Michelle stands for,” says Ward, age TK, of TK, Hawaii.

“Caring people like Michelle are few and far between.”

Leigh Searcy, 44, TV reporter at LEX 18 News in Lexington, Ky.

Searcy was reporting on a story about a young veteran who needed a kidney in December 2012 when she made a life-changing decision.

“I told my photographer ‘I think I want to see if I would be a match for him,’ ” recalls Searcy, a reporter for LEX18 News in Lexington,NY.

Unfortunately she wasn’t– though her story did lead to him finding a donor–, but she still continued the process to be matched with someone else in need.

“I just thought because I was healthy and I could be a donor, why not?” she says.

On August 29, she donated a kidney to a woman she still hasn t met.

“I grew up with giving back so this was just second nature to me,” says Seary. “I want people to know it’s really easy to make this sacrifice.”

Jamie Crawn, 32, Ottsville, Pa.

Crawn’s daughter, Josie, was just four months old in November 2010 when her parents found out she needed a liver transplant or she’d die.

Three days later, part of a liver from 20-year-old Ethan Moyer of East Stroudsburg, Pa., who had been killed when he was hit by a drunk driver, saved her life.

Afterward, the two mothers bonded.

“I started exchanging letters with his mother,” says Crawn, a former middle school teacher and varsity field hockey coach. “We decided we need to meet and the rest is history.”

Last August, Josie was the flower girl at Ethan’s sister’s wedding. And just last weekend all the Moyer family came to Josie’s fourth birthday party.

“They haven’t become just friends, they’re as close as blood family members,” says Crawn, who has become a passionate organ donor advocates.

Ethan s mother Linda says giving away his liver was an easy decision.

“Ethan first said ‘Yes’ to being an organ donor,” says Linda, 56. “He made the choice and then we followed his lead.”

“I never would have anticipated to be a part of this journey,” she says, “but I m so proud of my son.”

More Heroes Among Us:

Hospital Employee Adopts Sick Child

Man Builds Dollhouses for Disadvantaged Kids

Know a hero? Send suggestions to heroesamongus@peoplemag.com. For more inspiring stories, read the latest issue of PEOPLE magazine

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