"I don't get to save everybody in my job, and this was one life I knew I could save," Lindsey Bittorf tells PEOPLE
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Credit: American Family Children's Hospital

Nine-year-old Jackson Arneson has found a new hero in a local police officer who was a complete stranger just a few months ago.

Officer Lindsey Bittorf of Rock County, Wisconsin, came across a public plea on Facebook in February from Kristi Goll, a determined mom who was desperately searching for a kidney donor for her young son. “I couldn’t imagine her frustration,” says Bittorf, who has a 2-year-old son named Luca. “Every parent wants to save their child.”

Bittorf, 31, couldn’t stop thinking about the family’s situation, so she sent in a blood sample to see if she was a match, and then wrote to Goll, 31, to let her know that her call for action had been heard. “My mother told me it takes a village to raise a child, so I told Kristi, ‘I’m just another person in your village trying to help your child,’ ” she says.

After several weeks of testing, Bittorf discovered that her kidney was a perfect match for Jackson, who was born with posterior urethral valves, a condition that often causes kidney damage. Two hours after receiving her results, Bittorf and her husband, Ryan, 31, a deputy sheriff, surprised Goll and Jackson — who live in nearby Janesville with Jackson’s stepdad, Jordan Goll, 34, and 10-month-old sister Dawsyn — with the good news.

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Lindsey Bittorf and Jackson Arneson on the day they first met in May.
| Credit: Gutzman Photography

The two families spent the next few weeks getting to know each other better before Jackson and Bittorf’s scheduled transplant surgery at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics on June 22. “We clicked so well and she and Jackson have a really neat bond,” Goll says. “Before the surgery, I felt like it was Jackson and my best friend going in and doing this together.”

The transplant was a success, and as soon as Jackson was able to receive visitors the next day, Bittorf was wheeled into his room, where they both proudly held their matching kidney pillows. “He started crying and I started crying,” she recalls. “He is so strong and brave. I am just in awe of him.”

“He calls me his best friend now,” she adds. “It’s amazing that we went from being complete strangers to best friends.”

Jackson has continued to improve since the surgery and he hopes to start school in a couple of weeks. He says his new kidney is “the very best gift I will ever receive. I’m going to take extra, extra good care of it.”

For Goll, who texts daily with Bittorf, there is no measure for her gratitude. “I can’t thank Lindsey enough,” she says. “She’s one of the family now.”

Adds Bittof: “I don’t get to save everybody in my job, and this was one life I knew I could save.”