Facebook post leads Ford autoworker to save GM worker's life

'It's just a big family,' says liver recipient

DEARBORN, Mich. – It was about three years ago when Rick Foley, an autoworker for General Motors, started feeling sick.

He went the doctor, changed his diet and felt better. Then all of the sudden, things took a turn for the worse.

"I went to the nurse at work and he looked at me and said, 'I don't wanna scare you, but your eyes are yellow,'" remembered Foley.

Doctors told Foley that his liver was failing.

"I found out I needed a new liver. It was unbelievable when they told me," said Foley.

From the start, Foley's wife Carolyn was determined to save his life.

"We had a team, his sister and I and him. We would sit, we went around, we would crunch numbers on all the hospitals in the country," said Carolyn Foley.

But the waiting list for a liver transplant is long and Foley just wasn't sick enough yet.

"What ends up happening is you're basically at the end and then there's a chance. Once you get that sick though, your odds of making it through it are a lot less. So it was pretty grim," said Rick Foley.

"You could see him fading all the time. It was just really hard," said Carolyn Foley.

They tried other states.

"We went to Indiana, we went to North Carolina," said Carolyn Foley.

With Rick running out of time, Carolyn asked if she could share his story on Facebook.

"She said, 'Maybe someone would donate part of their liver to you, and we'd save your life,'" said Rick Foley. "And I was like, 'I'm not really comfortable with that.' Finally one day, it got bad enough where we were thinking I'm probably gonna die, right, and so why don't you just put the story out there?"

"If you're in a desperate situation, you take desperate measures," said Carolyn Foley.

Rick works for General Motors. Carolyn is a Ford autoworker.

When she shared their story on Facebook, it caught the eye of one of her coworkers at Ford.

"I was at work on lunch, and I was just scrolling through Facebook," said Fredo Pacheco.

Pacheco didn't go know Carolyn Foley well, but--

"I thought, 'I gotta do this,'" said Pacheco. "I knew, I had it in my heart that I was his match."

"Fredo came up to me at work after that, and he said, 'I'm going to try and be his donor,'" said Carolyn Foley.

That night, Pacheco had a dream that his father-in-law told him that he was a match for Rick Foley. The dream had a special significance, because his father-in-law was a heart recipient.

"He had a heart transplant 20 years ago, and he lived ten years on it," said Kathy Pacheco, Fredo's wife. "He was a big advocate about getting your donor card signed."

Pacheco learned he was a match, and Kathy and their five kids supported the idea of him donating part of his liver. But there was a problem.

Pacheco was thirty pounds too heavy to qualify. He immediately started a strict diet.

"Every day before work I went to the gym, and every day after work I went to the gym," said Pacheco.

He arranged to meet Rick and Carolyn Foley for dinner.

"He said, 'I am your donor.' That's what he told me," said Rick Foley. "He had already gone through all the testing, and they had already accepted him. He did it in secret."

Rick Foley was grateful, but reluctant to allow Pacheco to take that risk.

Rick Foley and Fredo Pacheco (WDIV)
Rick Foley and Fredo Pacheco (WDIV)

"I was terrified for him. Honestly, I was, but they kept reassuring me that it would work out and well, how do you turn the hero who wants to save your life down? You don't," said Foley.

"I knew I was going to be okay," said Pacheco. "I put my faith in God, I put my hand in God and let him handle it. And I'm here."

Last October, part of Pacheco's liver was transplanted into Foley. It was a success.

Rick's family gave Pacheco a Superman blanket, a fitting gift for their superhero.

"'Thank you' isn't a big enough word," said Rick Foley. "'I love you,' I would say to them. You know, 'Thank you so much and I'm going to be your best friend forever.'"

Rick Foley (WDIV)
Rick Foley (WDIV)

"They are family to us, and we do love them," said Carolyn Foley. "We owe them so much. I mean, Rick's life really, our life together."

"A Ford autoworker saving a General Motors autoworker and the UAW connection and all of it, it's just a big family, and it's kind of wonderful," said Rick Foley.

"I'm happy my husband was able to save his life. He doesn't see himself as a hero, but I do," said Kathy Pacheco.

Pacheco is quick to brush off any talk of him being a hero.

"I'm not a hero. I'm just a normal guy. And I knew I could help somebody," said Fredo Pacheco.

Pacheco says the only thanks he needs is seeing Foley come back to life.

Rick Foley and Fredo Pacheco (WDIV)
Rick Foley and Fredo Pacheco (WDIV)

"He's a total different person than what he was the day of surgery, and it's awesome. It's awesome," said Pacheco.

Pacheco's liver has regenerated, and he's fully recovered. His only side effect? He can't eat fried foods anymore, because doctors also removed his gallbladder. He says that's okay. It's forcing him to keep eating healthier.

Foley's recovery has been longer, but he's doing better every day, and looks forward to returning to work.

They all hope their story will encourage others to join the organ donor registry or perhaps consider becoming a living donor.

"To try and pay it forward and possibly give someone else a chance is the most important thing to me right now because we got our miracle," said Carolyn Foley. "Check that box when you're at the Secretary of State. One person can save eight lives. That's the most important thing."

"We're just a vessel. When your body goes to the ground, it does nothing," said Pacheco. "Be an organ donor. Everyone should be an organ donor."

To join the Michigan Organ Donor Registry, click here.

To learn more about becoming a living donor, click here.