Woman’s unthinkable loss saves the life of her friend’s husband
RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - They say people come into our lives because they’re supposed to. For Cynthia and Chuck Williams, that was undoubtedly the case - 25 years of blissful marriage, two beautiful kids, big dreams and moto-cross.
And it could certainly be said for Kelly and Cynthia who are friends for more than eight years.
“God put her in my life and mine in hers for a reason,” said Kelly Perlowski. “I really do believe that. I mean, how else do you explain it? It’s a miracle. It was almost like divine intervention.”
Divine because of what unfolded last September. But the incredible story starts long before that with Kelly’s husband, Kevin.
“We were in a car accident in 2017 and they had to cut me out of the car, we got hit so hard,” said Kevin Perlowski. “And the doctor asked my wife if I was a big drinker.”
Kevin, a diabetic, was eventually diagnosed with non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. It stole his ability to live, work, or even stay awake.
“It got to the point that I wasn’t even a good husband anymore,” said Kevin.
“It was a relief when he went on the transplant list,” said Kelly. “Such a relief, because I felt like we were finally moving in the right direction.”
In September 2021, Kevin almost died. Kelly had to call an ambulance, and the couple realized they were racing against the clock.
“I was really going downhill fast,” said Kevin. “I really honestly never thought I’d leave the hospital.”
And through those challenges, Cynthia and Chuck were there, supporting Kelly and Kevin.
“Chuck would always come over where we were sitting and he would always ask, “How’s Kevin doing?” said Cynthia. “How’s Kevin doing? He was worried about Kevin making it. And Kelly being a widow.”
They’re haunting words now, knowing what came next. The September day it happened, is a blur, and yet each moment is etched deep in Cynthia’s mind.
The day started routinely for Chuck and Cynthia. They attended a motocross event, enjoying time with friends and racing.
“I’d kiss that part of his helmet and give him a hug and then we’d go to the gate,” said Cynthia. “The next thing I knew, his legs were up in the air.”
The race stopped.
“I ran to the top of the bleachers and there was no movement,” said Cynthia. “Of course, I knew when I got there. You just know. I just took whatever moments I had. I think I had a few minutes to say my goodbyes. "
Chuck was eventually med-flighted to Norfolk Sentara with a brain and spinal cord injury. Doctors confirmed what Cynthia knew right away - her best friend, her husband, was gone.
But his race wasn’t over. Chuck had told Cynthia he was an organ donor, and she was prepared to fulfill his wishes.
“Why keep all that if you can help somebody else live on?” said Cynthia.
Cynthia never saw the turn that came next.
LifeNet entered the room to help facilitate the organ donation. Wrought with grief and exhaustion from the sleepless night, Cynthia asked her dear friend Christy Hodges to help her through the process. The women were moto-cross wives together. And Check was the Godfather to Christy’s children.
“Truly one of the best guys you could ever know,” said Hodges of Chuck.
The two women entered a room with LifeNet, a company that walks families through the donation process, recognizing that giving this most generous gift can simultaneously be difficult and filled with sadness.
“They made sure we had food, we had drink and I had plenty of time. And they coordinated everything. There’s a special group of people that do that,” said Cynthia of Lifenet. “It was really. I think about that day all the time. I think about that moment. Sitting on that couch with LifeNet.”
Cynthia started answering a number of questions, all part of the process.
The next question changed everything.
“Do you know anyone that needs a liver or a kidney?
“I said ‘yes,’” said Cynthia. “And she just looked at me and stopped.”
“She said, do you know anyone that needs a liver or a kidney? And I started crying. I said, ‘yes, I do.’”
“Extremely moving to know he was going to live on and possibly save a dear friend’s life,” said Hodges of that selfless moment behind closed doors.
Cynthia called Kelly and Kevin.
“I said how’s Kevin? And she says, ‘oh boo, how are you is the question?’ I was like, ‘you know, we’re not doing so great,’” said Cynthia.
“My heart sank,” said Kelly, thinking about her experience on the other side of the phone call. “Because here I am going through this while one of my closest, dearest best friends is losing her husband.”
“I said, ‘I’m going to designate Chuck’s liver to Kevin,’” Cynthia said. “And of course, she starts crying and you know she tells me the reality of it. She says, ‘this still might not work.’”
Kevin already had two potential transplants fall through. But Cynthia believed this was what Chuck was meant to do.
“I needed it so badly,” said Cynthia. “I needed it.”
And it turns out, she wasn’t wrong. The blood types came back the same, and then the news: the liver was a match.
Two dear friends, across the state. One facing her husband’s death, the other learning hers may live.
“They really want that liver today. I said, ‘then today it will be,’” said Cynthia.
Doctors walked Chuck into the operating room.
“It was like crossing the finish line with Chuck,” said Cynthia reflecting back on the donor walk where they saw Chuck for the last time. “That’s how we looked at it.”
She recalled how meaningful the moment was and how kindly she was treated.
And then a few hours later, Kelly got the call. Kevin was getting Chuck’s liver.
Chuck gave his whole life, and he gave even in his death.
“He was the best,” said Cynthia. “He always gave. Which kind of made the donor part even better. He was the best dad. The best husband. And he was my best friend.”
His son Zach says his dad always prioritized the family, that he lived life this way. And he cared about others.
Chuck finished the race and restarted Kevin’s.
“I feel great,” said Kevin. “I wake up every morning and thank the lord. And then Chuck.”
Kevin can now work; he feels healthy. And Kelly still has her husband.
“Chuck’s sacrifice saved me, and I’m going to do my best to live my life and honor him the rest of my life,” said Kevin.
Kelly and Cynthia are two friends bound by the gift of life, and a great man who marked himself an “Organ Donor”.
“You never know whose life you’re going to save. I mean, I was able to save my friend’s husband.”
“You never really know what’s going to happen and I think it’s important to make that decision or think about it at least. Think about how you can positively impact someone in light of something negative happening to you,” added Chuck’s son, Zach.
By the way, Chuck’s other organs have gone to several other recipients. His corneas went to someone who was able to see Christmas lights for the first time.
And at his celebration of life, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke. That’s another story for another day, but it involves Chuck lending a helping hand. Because that’s what he was known for - giving.
These families shared their stories in hopes they will save other lives.
Right now, there are about 2,500 Virginians waiting for an organ transplant. And about every 10 minutes, another person is added to the waiting list.
By becoming an organ donor, you can save up to eight lives.
For more information, visit DonateLifeVirginia.org
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