BAY CITY (WJRT) -
(04/22/14) - There are all kinds of heroes we run across in our lives.
Many of them are heroic because of the instant decision they make to get involved in a crisis.
Then there are those who literally give a piece of themselves so someone else may live. That describes the hero of 12-year-old Jessica Schwerin of Bay City.
"He was saving my life, that's all I knew," Jessica said.
That's how 12-year-old Jessica Schwerin looks at her hero, Brian Martindale.
Two and a half years ago, Jessica started noticing pain in her lower back. In the coming months, it got worse.
"All I felt was my back hurt and it hurt so bad," she said.
Almost a year later, a blood test finally found the reason.
"We didn't even get home and they were calling to get us back for an emergency ultrasound. That was on a Friday. Tuesday morning we were in Ann Arbor and was told that she had a very rare form of kidney disease," said Stacey Schwerin, Jessica's mother. "Basically it was devastating."
Jessica needed a new kidney, and fast, or faced a life of dialysis or even death.
Her mom's kidney wasn't a match, and Jessica was getting weaker, all pushing Stacey to desperation.
"I was drinking a cup of coffee and looking over at my computer desk and there was a bright pink paper, and I thought to myself, 'All these bums can go on the corner and beg for money. I don't want money, I want a part. So I sat down with a marker and wrote out Please Help. My daughter's 10 and I cant lose her," she said.
She spent five hours standing on a Bay City street corner, holding the sign.
"There was a lot of people that offered money at the time just on the corner, but I kept, 'No, I want a kidney, I want everybody to take me serious. You got an extra kidney, I'll take that.' A lot of people looked at me like 'you were totally nuts,'" she said.
She got the attention of The Bay City Times, in a article a week later.
"We got 17 calls in one day," Jessica said.
Brian Martindale owns Karma Inc. Apparel in Bay City, and knew instantly, he had to help.
"I picked up the newspaper that day. Jessica's story was on the front page," he said.
Brian was one of those 17 calls to Jessica's mom. He immediately, and confidentially, went through testing. Three weeks later, Brian got the word, he was Jessica's direct match.
"I didn't even realize we only lived four blocks apart in Bay City," he said.
It was the day before Thanksgiving.
"I'll never forget it. I fell to my knees and I think I screamed so loud I'm surprised Brian didn't hear me because he lived so close," Stacey said.
A month and a half later, Jessica had her new kidney.
"I saw her two days afterward and what a difference, to see somebody 48 hours after a, getting a healthy kidney, the color in her, just made it all worthwhile, just that moment of seeing her," Martindale said.
"She seems to be improving all the time," Stacey said.
Brian was flying high too, seeing the immediate change in Jessica, forgetting the seriousness of the major surgery he'd just gone through.
"I donated my kidney on a Friday and was back in my business on a Tuesday. So I kind of over did it at first," Brian said.
Between going back to work too soon and the stress of trying to keep his business going, Brian developed a bleeding stress ulcer and couldn't work full time. He'd have to close his store. This time, Jessica and her family come to his rescue, holding several fundraisers to help.
After four months, he was back to normal and is now partnering with Jessica to spread the word about kidney donations.
"The name of our film project is 'Share your Spare.' It's a saying that goes along with, obviously, kidneys. We all have a spare and a lot of us are physically able to share it," Brian said.
"I'm better now and Brian's better and he gave his kidney to me, so you should give kidneys to other children and adults and then they can have a better life," Jessica said.
"Jessica has a piece of Brian in him that gave her her life back and my life back. I must have told him thank you a thousand times, but thank you just doesn't cover it. He's a living angel. He'll always be my hero, always be Jessica's hero," Stacey said.
Brian will be honored this Wednesday at the "Everyday Heroes" banquet in Saginaw Township.