Bill English, of Bellmawr, New Jersey, has a new lease on life after a stranger saw his wife’s desperate Facebook plea for a kidney donor and stepped up to help the ailing father of two.
English, 35, says he was prepared for the worst in 2015 when he learned his kidneys were failing. That’s when his wife, Laura English, stepped up and started a Facebook page, then-called “Be Our Daddy’s Hero” in an effort to find a kidney donor for her husband.
“I was hopeful that it would work. I had to do something. We didn’t have anything to lose,” Laura, 35, who has two sons — aged 4 and 2 — with Bill, tells PEOPLE. “When he first got listed [on the organ transplant registry], he was living life on a machine. To ask somebody to give a piece of themselves to keep him alive was a big ask. I was hopeful, but I didn’t necessarily think a stranger was gonna donate.”
Much to the couple’s surprise, that’s exactly what happened. Last August, Amy Pauvlinch, 28, randomly saw a comment Laura posted under a now-viral post about another father looking for a kidney donor. Pauvlinch, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, says she soon found the Facebook page dedicated to Bill’s journey, and was so moved by his story that she reached out to Laura immediately.
“I just knew that this is something that I had to do. Something in my heart was like, ‘This is the person you’re supposed to contact,’ ” Pauvlinch tells PEOPLE. “I ended up messaging her and I said, ‘I’d really like to give your husband my kidney.’ It was very, very awkward.”
The women spoke for several weeks before Pauvlinch met with the family in the fall before undergoing testing at a Philadelphia hospital to see if she was a match.
“I couldn’t even describe the experience. It was pretty surreal. When I first met them, was like, ‘This family’s gonna have my kidney!’ ” It was amazing … this is the family that I’m supposed to help and come hell or high water we’re gonna do this together. It was like magic.”
Bill says he and Pauvlinch became close during the journey, bonding over the reality of the transplant. After months of testing and preparation, Bill and Pauvlinch were wheeled into the operating room on July 3 at Jefferson University Hospital where they underwent the surgery.
“She was a good match and, once we found that out, our level of hope and excitement grew,” Bill says, noting he was nervous on the days just before the surgery. “Mentally, I was prepared for the worst for years. Then all of a sudden it was happening. I didn’t know how to take it. I was too amazed. It hit me, like, ‘Oh my God! this is happening.’ “
After the surgery, both Bill and Pauvlinch say they felt “great.” And in the weeks since the transplant, both are having smooth recoveries.
“It’s amazing. I feel like a whole new person,” Bill tells PEOPLE. “I felt good right away. Once I was out of the anesthesia, I was in the best mood I’ve been in in like three years.”
Bill, Laura and Pauvlinch chronicled the journey through photos and posts on social media. In a shot of the pair smiling side-by-side, Pauvlinch gushed over the situation.
“It’s so awesome and surreal, still, to know my kidney is in his body kicking so much ass for him!!” she wrote in an Instagram post earlier this month.
Laura has started a GoFundMe page to cover Bill’s medical expenses. Earlier this month, she shared a grateful post on the family’s page — now titled “Our Daddy Found his Kidney: Bill’s Transplant Journey” — writing that she can breathe easy now that her husband’s health has improved.
“I breathed a sigh of relief when I spoke with the surgeon and you successfully received the GIFT OF LIFE and a functioning kidney!” she wrote. “Today, I EXHALED, as you came home from the hospital with a new lease on life and new possibilities. We know this gift may not last forever and there will be bumps in the road, but tonight I EXHALE.”