Man Who Needed New Kidney Finds His Perfect Match Thanks to Company Newsletter: 'I Was in Shock'

“You never know until you try, so I just tried everything,” Tim Peterkin tells PEOPLE of finding a perfect match in Cathy Slack, a co-worker he barely knew beforehand

Cathy Slack and Tim Peterkin
Cathy Slack and Tim Peterkin. Photo: Courtesy Cathy Slack

A little over one year ago, Tim Peterkin and Cathy Slack were virtually strangers — but today, the co-workers share a bond like no other after Slack donated her kidney to Peterkin in order to give him a second chance at life.

"From the initial conversations between me and Cathy, I could almost feel her spirit," Peterkin, 41, tells PEOPLE. "It was one of those things where you feel like someone's a good person and has a big heart. So it started to make sense to me why she would want to do this for somebody, even if she didn't really know them well. It just seemed like the type of person that she was, and still is."

"I am really fortunate to be very healthy," adds Slack, 60. "And if I can share that health with someone, I will. I'm just so glad we were a match. I've got this wonderful man in my life now."

Peterkin, of Charlotte, North Carolina, says he was first diagnosed with kidney disease when he was 25.

Although Peterkin monitored his disease with minimal issues or pain for years, everything changed in April 2019 — just two weeks before he was set to receive his 10-year award at BAYADA Home Health Care's Awards Weekend.

Cathy Slack and Tim Peterkin
Cathy Slack and Tim Peterkin in the hospital after their transplant. Courtesy Cathy Slack

"I originally went to the doctor thinking I got food poisoning," he explains. "I thought it would pass after a couple of days but it didn't get any better... I eventually stopped by my kidney doctor and I was like, 'Can you just run some labs because I've lost 20 pounds in two weeks and feel horrible.' "

His doctor ended up running tests while Peterkin attempted to ignore the pain and attend Awards Weekend. It was there that he briefly crossed paths with Slack.

"The awards conferences are huge. There are a lot of people," explains Slack, a director at New Hampshire Skilled BAYADA Home Health Care. "But I do remember Tim's smile because he's always wearing it. That's something that stood out to me then, and still today."

"For me, it was the opposite," notes Peterkin, a director at Charlotte Pediatrics BAYADA Home Health Care. "I remember, kind of, glancing at Cathy, but there was so much going on and I was not feeling well. So for me, the majority of the weekend was all a blur."

Because his pain hadn't subsided by the time the weekend was over, Peterkin returned home and checked himself into a hospital. While there, his test results came back, confirming he had gone into kidney failure.

Cathy Slack and Tim Peterkin
Cathy Slack and Tim Peterkin after their transplant with their caretakers. Courtesy Cathy Slack

Peterkin quickly started dialysis — and then reluctantly set out on a public journey to find a kidney donor after some encouragement from his nurses.

"Their thing was, 'Have you done Facebook posts? Have you talked to your job? Have you put yourself out there?' " he recalls. "I'm a shy guy [so] it was nerve-wracking."

Ultimately, Peterkin decided, "We have all these people that work at the company, maybe somebody might see it... let's just try it. You never know until you try, so I just tried everything."

Cathy Slack and Tim Peterkin
Tim Peterkin at Awards Weekend in 2021. Courtesy Cathy Slack

In September 2020, BAYADA sent out their company newsletter featuring Peterkin's plea for a donor.

It ended up catching the attention of Slack — a registered organ, blood and platelet donor for the last 25 years — and she was quick to start testing to see if she was a match for Peterkin, despite barely knowing him.

"I get this Facebook message from Cathy and she said, 'Hi, I'm getting ready to go to Emory [University Hospital] for additional testing,' " Peterkin recalls. "I was in shock more than anything. Because I had opened up my post to the world and I was like, 'Is this somebody I know?' "

"Tim and I were passing ships in the night [at Awards Weekend] and it wasn't until I saw the bit in the newsletter and his need for a kidney that we connected," Slack says.

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The two finally connected the dots about their shared employer, and Slack underwent a year of testing, traveling multiple times from her home in Bradford, New Hampshire to Durham.

In October 2021, doctors finally confirmed the pair was a match and could go through with the transplant — news that Slack says made her feel "fabulous."

Cathy Slack and Tim Peterkin
Cathy Slack and her BAYADA co-workers. Courtesy Cathy Slack

"Both of us were sharing this overwhelming sense of joy with each other," Peterkin adds. "We were on FaceTime going, 'It's really happening.' It was a good moment for both of us."

"Everyone in my family was overly excited, especially because my mom is on dialysis and my aunt just recently started dialysis," he continues. "So for them, they were like, 'Oh my God, if he gets it, then there's hope for us.' "

One month after that exciting day, Peterkin and Slack underwent the transplant at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Immediately following the surgery on Nov. 9, both were eager to reunite.

"I do know that when I woke up, I was like, 'I want to see Tim, I've got to see Tim,' " Slack recalls.

"Seeing each other for the first time was so exciting," notes Peterkin. "I felt like we were bonded even more to each other. I was like, 'I'm her new brother. I know she had two before, but now she's got three.' It definitely was a strong connection. Very, very powerful."

RELATED VIDEO: Why Living Organ Donor Brian Flynn Donated a Kidney—and Then Part of His Liver—to Two Strangers in Two Years

Now at home with their respective caretakers, both Peterkin and Slack are focused on their recovery — and spreading the word about kidney donations.

"I think there's a lot of misunderstandings about kidneys and how you can still be able to donate," Peterkin says. "I feel like I'm being a voice of hope and reasoning for other people now, so I definitely want to continue doing that and be able to give back and bring awareness."

Adds Slack: "Tim invited me to be a part of that... I'm pretty excited to bring awareness to the gift of life. If we can help spread the word more, then that is what I would like to be able to do."

Those interested in becoming organ donors can learn more here.

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