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The gift that keeps giving
Christie Huber, Manny Bautista and Laurie Athey, Bautista's fiancee, talk about their story in Bautista and Athey's home Monday in Gratiot. When Bautista, who has stage-4 kidney disease, posted on Facebook he was in need of a kidney transplant, Huber decided she wanted to be the one to donate to him. Huber and Bautista have been friends since she and her husband, John, owned Baumgartner's. Although the Hubers have been living in Colorado for the past 10 years, they have still kept in contact with Bautista. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)

Organ donation in Wisconsin

Where to donate: Living donation can be done through UW Health, Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital, Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center

Requirements to donate: Good physical and mental health; well-informed; good support; no alcohol/ substance abuse issues; positive mental diagnoses over an extended period of time; free from high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, HIV, hepatitis, organ-specific diseases; and at least 18 years of age

Who to contact: UW Health Transplant program at (608) 263-1384; Froedtert Transplant Center at (414) 805-3666; and Children's Hospital of Wisconsin at (877) 607-5280

For more information: Contact the National Kidney Foundation of Wisconsin at (414) 897-8669 or visit

GRATIOT - Social media has become a powerful force in the everyday lives of much of the planet and connects those who would otherwise be long forgotten. Sometimes it can even bring about change, and for two people it recently created a life-changing opportunity.

Christie Huber is a native of Monroe who has been living in Woodland Park, Colorado, for the past 10 years. She and her husband, John, both work for the city there, having moved after selling their business, Baumgartner's Cheese Store and Tavern, in Monroe.

Manny Bautista is a resident of Gratiot and performer who has played guitar as a profession throughout his life. As an entertainer throughout the country and as a part of his newest venture The Manny B. Group, his music has had an impact on what he has guessed to be roughly one million people. He began generating music at the age of 3 and learned guitar in Spain before touring with prominent groups such as Gladys Knight & The Pips and Hall & Oates.

Huber saw a Facebook post by an old friend she and her husband knew when they owned Baumgartner's. It was Bautista, and he was looking for an organ donor match.

Bautista has been struggling with chronic kidney disease since 2012 and was designated at stage 4 within the last year; a diagnosis he has attributed to the Affordable Care Act because he was able to gain health insurance for the first time in 16 years through the new law. Because of the condition, Bautista was on the verge of being placed on dialysis, a treatment in which a machine removes blood from the body and acts as the kidneys to filter out excess fluid and toxins. He would have to continue the treatment for as long as it took to receive a kidney donation, which could be from three to five years, or possibly even longer. The need for this treatment had the potential to end his career.

Huber and Bautista have known each other for almost two decades, keeping in touch online even after the raucous Thursday night Blues concerts provided by Bautista and The Torpedoes at the tavern had ended. Interested in how much she could help, Huber utilized the Internet for research and was bolstered by the fact that she and Manny had matching blood types. Hoping to help, Huber was determined to try to aid Bautista and his fiancée, Laurie Athey, who has been living with multiple sclerosis since just after the couple moved to Gratiot a decade ago.

"It's just not fair," Huber said. "We need to keep this guy around. Something good has to happen."

After a week of research, she approached her husband with the idea. Once she had committed to the process, Huber sent a message to Athey over Facebook indicating how she wanted to help.

Then she moved forward with the tests through UW Health, all the while feeling apprehension that somewhere along the line the doctors would find an issue that would disqualify her as a donor. The worry turned out to be needless. Huber phoned Bautista and Athey to share the news.

"(Huber) calls up one day and just says, "Hi, I'm calling in reference to what you put on the Internet, and I'd like to donate a kidney,' and my god, the phone call lasted two and a half hours or something," Bautista said. "I'm crying on the phone. It's insurmountable. I pinch myself every day. Without these three people (Christie, John and Laurie), I'd be nothing."

Huber and Bautista are looking forward to Wednesday morning, when a UW doctor will perform surgery to remove one of Huber's kidneys and exchange it for one of Bautista's failing ones.

The need for Bautista to replace one of his own organs became apparent when doctors found his function had been limited to less than 20 percent. Huber will be one of more than 8,000 kidney donors through the transplant program at UW Health since the program began in 1966. The program itself is rated as one of the best in the country.

Huber said the most important thing has been to make sure Bautista will have a good life, and that he and Athey will be able to have a bit of peace in each day.

"We got a miracle," Athey said. "We have an angel."

Athey and Bautista repeatedly expressed their gratitude to both the Hubers, especially Christie, for the donation. Huber has used accumulated vacation time in order to fly to Wisconsin and spend her time of roughly one month recovering after surgery. She will spend three days in the hospital to ensure her health is sound before being kept close for about three weeks longer.

Athey has started "A Rockin' Kidney for Manny B." as a GoFundMe fundraiser for not only the expenses the couple will need to cover as Bautista misses work recovering from his procedure but also to compensate Huber for money spent to travel to Wisconsin for the donation, though they have received help from the National Living Donor Assistance Center as well.

Huber added that organ donation is something anyone can do, and should be embraced by more living donors. She laughed as she pointed to her back and said anyone can live without both kidneys. She has no fear going into the procedure but did have to face five conversations with each of her daughters about her decision once she knew she was a proper match. All were supportive, but some were worried about their mother. All it took was a bit of the same method of research Huber first implemented in order to calm them. Huber said she still finds other people asking if she has considered what could happen down the road if someone she is close to, such as her five daughters or six grandchildren, needs a transplant of their own, but she has brushed off the sentiment.

"We all live on what-ifs, and what's the point?" Huber said. "It's such a waste of time. We've all had friends who've passed away from cancer and diseases and watched them struggle, and you can't do anything to help. This is something you can do."