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FARMER CITY - Steve Johnson is getting more than a kidney from a former classmate - he's getting a chance at a better life.

More than 30 years after graduating from Farmer City High School, Sarah McCoy Shoemaker is donating one of her kidneys to Steve ""Skinner" Johnson.

"I want to see him live and be healthy. I want to give him his life back and free him from dialysis," Shoemaker said.

Johnson, 52, suffers from kidney failure. He's been on a transplant waiting list for more than a year and has dialysis treatments three times a week. Thanks to Shoemaker, thatís all going to change soon.

"It's hard for me to put into words, the way it makes me feel. I don't know what I could possibly do to ever repay her," Johnson said. "I know one thing: I'll always be there for her for anything."

The operation is scheduled for Jan. 11 at Memorial Medical Center, Springfield.

Shoemaker, who lives in Decatur with her husband and works at Von Maur as an Estee Lauder counter manager, says she's not scared about the operation.

"God gives me strength," Shoemaker said. "This is something I know I'm supposed to do. Thereís no reason to be afraid."

She said she feels lucky that she's able to do it.

"I feel special and I feel blessed that I've been given this thing to do. I can't believe itís possible I can help another human being this way," Shoemaker said.

After graduating from high school in 1971, Johnson and Shoemaker kept in touch over the years, mostly through class reunions.

In 2003, Shoemaker attended a benefit for Johnson and learned that they shared the same rare B-negative blood type.

Shoemaker said on her way home from the benefit, she felt an overwhelming need to help her friend and give him one of her kidneys.

Johnson was very apprehensive about her offer and initially refused to accept it, but Shoemaker was persistent.

"I would call him and bug him about once a month," Shoemaker said.

Finally, two years after she first proposed the idea, Johnson agreed to the transplant.

From June to September, Shoemaker underwent a series of tests to determine tissue compatibility.

"Some relatives wonít match a point, but we matched a point on our tissue," Shoemaker said.

Shoemaker admits her husband has some doubts about the operation, but he still supports her decision.

"He stands completely behind me on it," she said.

Both Johnson and Shoemaker, who were homecoming attendants their sophomore year, are in good spirits and even kid around about what it will be like for Johnson to live with Shoemakerís kidney.

"Since I'm going to have a female body part, we wonder if I'm going to want to wear lipstick and pantyhose," Johnson joked.

How to help

A fund has been set up to help Sarah Shoemaker while she's recovering from surgery and unable to work. To donate to the Sarah Shoemaker Benefit Fund, contact:

Land of Lincoln Credit Union

2890 N. Oakland Ave.

Decatur, IL 62526

or call (217) 875-1300

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