Matt Carlson was an Eagle Scout, a teacher, a soccer coach, and an adoring father. He loved video games, and he was an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan. All in all, he was building a vibrant life with his wife, Heather, and their two young children.
In early 2010, everything changed when Matt suffered the worst headache of his life. Within half an hour, he collapsed. Matt was transported by helicopter to a hospital an hour from his Virginia home. The medical team determined that he had a ruptured brain aneurysm. A week later, Matt was declared brain-dead.
Heather was devastated. “I left the hospital on day eight, and as you can imagine, I was angry and sad and scared,” she said. “I wanted God to show me why – give me some purpose.” Heather cried herself to sleep, and when she woke up, the first thought on her mind was: “Eddie needs a kidney.”
Ed Klosky was a childhood friend of Heather’s younger sister. Just prior to Matt’s collapse, when the Carlsons were visiting relatives back home in Latrobe, Pa., during the holidays, they had all reconnected at a family gathering.
At that point Ed had been on the organ transplant waiting list for 18 months, following his diagnosis with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a type of scarring on the kidneys, at age 16. “I had to be put on dialysis when I turned 19,” he said. “It was a somber feeling.”
Back in Virginia, Heather asked the hospital team if Matt could donate a kidney to Ed – a process known as directed donation. “Everybody told me it’s highly unlikely,” Heather said. “It was something like 1 in 700 that they would be a match.”
Miraculously, they were. Matt’s kidney was flown to Pittsburgh, and following the transplant, Ed woke up without a dialysis catheter. In the following days and weeks, his life began to transform. “I had the energy to go out with friends again,” Ed said. “I joined a bowling league. I was able to move out of my parents’ house and went back to school.”
Matt and Heather’s children were young when he passed away. Evan was 3, and Chloe was 2. Being without their father all these years has been challenging, but today, they regard him as a hero. “Growing up we did a lot of organ donation advocacy,” Chloe said. “It has helped all of us work through the trauma and grief of losing him.”
Matt’s gift has also made a big difference for Heather. “In my moment of despair, I found hope,” she said. “In my sorrow, I found joy. I don’t think I would be as emotionally healthy as I am today, and I don’t think I would have been able to move forward as strongly as I did, if it weren’t for Matt’s gift.”
Ed is incredibly grateful to Matt. “I shouldn’t be here right now, but I am, because of him,” Ed said. “I did have a second chance. The way the world works and brings people together, the people that you need, it’s wondrous.”