If Brad Meltzer tried to write a novel about helping his high school history teacher get a new kidney, his editor would reject the manuscript for being too far-fetched.
But the South Florida writer — author of 10 thrillers including The President’s Shadow, a children’s series about historical figures, numerous comics and History Decoded: The 10 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time — really did link Ellen Sherman with a donor via Facebook.
“You can use social media for good or evil,” Meltzer said. “You can post how great your family is, or you can do something worthwhile.”
Meltzer was in 11th grade at North Miami Beach High when he met Sherman in 1987.
“This was a time when I needed teachers who believed in me,” he said. “Today, I make my living writing thrillers and kids’ books about history. How much more could I owe my history teacher? This woman changed my life.”
He dedicated History Decoded to Sherman, who had made a point of attending his book readings over the years. After they’d exchanged a few emails, she admitted she had a favor to ask, even though she was hesitant: She was sick and needed a kidney transplant. Would Meltzer, who has more than 100,000 followers on his Facebook page, post a plea for donors?
And then the first miracle happened: Hundreds of people responded, offering to be tested to see if they were potential matches.
“We got a bunch of people who volunteered their body parts,” Meltzer marveled. “It was amazing.”
A match was found, and the woman flew to Florida to be evaluated. Then came miracle No. 2.
“A couple of weeks later, she calls me and said while they were examining her they found a tumor on her kidney,” Meltzer said. “She said, ‘Thank you for saving my life.’ I said, ‘You saved your own life by volunteering!’ ”
So Meltzer reached out on Facebook again. As the second batch of responses came in, he noted an email from Washington D.C. graphic designer Amy Waggoner that seemed promising and alerted Sherman’s camp to it. Good thing he did: The email had slipped into a spam file and would have been overlooked otherwise. Instead, Waggoner became Sherman’s donor.
“This is like when people line up dominoes and knock them down,” Meltzer said. “If one fails, it’s over. But it just so happens they tumbled perfectly.”
The surgery went well, and Waggoner and Sherman have been released from the hospital. Waggoner, who is recovering in town until doctors give her the OK to fly home, will attend Friday’s Marlins/Mets game with Meltzer, who’s bolstering his considerable geek credits by throwing out the first pitch in honor of Star Wars Day.
What compels a person to answer a Facebook plea and offer an organ to a perfect stranger?
“The only explanation I can come up with is that it was divine intervention,” said Waggoner, who turns 36 later this month and reports that she’s feeling pretty good. “Honestly, I am one of those people who loathes going to the doctor. I usually don’t go to the doctor unless I’m dying. But something compelled me to go and get tested. ... I feel like it was meant to happen. All of those little pieces that may not have happened or could have fallen apart were somehow taken care of.”
On Tuesday, Meltzer’s latest book for kids, I Am Helen Keller (Dial, $12.99), was released. In it, he sings the praises of Keller’s teacher Anne Sullivan and urges readers to thank the teacher who changed their lives.
“We read horror after horror in the newspaper, but you find the best of us as a species and what we’re truly capable of when you put kindness out in the universe,” Meltzer said. “We all believe the more we tell this story, the more people it might help.”
To find out more about becoming a kidney donor, visit floodsisters.org