Beyond ‘In Sickness and Health,’ Woman Donates Kidney to Ex-Husband

Although Bill Henrichs and Mary Ziegler divorced more than two decades ago, they've remained friends. So when Bill needed a kidney and Mary was a match, she didn't think twice.

When Bill Henrichs and Mary Ziegler got married more than 40 years ago, they promised to cherish each other, in sickness and in health. And while their marriage ended some years ago, those promises didn't. So faithfully last year, Mary donated a kidney to her ex-husband. "The universe was just kind of like, 'you're the one,'" Zielger tells KARE 11-TV.

When Bill found out he'd need a kidney transplant, more than 30 friends and family members offered to donate. But "they weren't healthy enough" or "were too old or didn't match closely enough," the station reports. Then Mary went through testing at Mayo Clinic and turned out to be a perfect match. "I'm a big believer in when you're tapped on the shoulder, you should answer the call," she tells the station.

Bill's kidney transplant is another chapter in an incredible love story that began when Bill and Mary were just 14 years old. They became good friends and then something more, marrying when they were just 18 and 19. "Bill played the bass guitar and was going to be a famous rock star," Mary tells The Washington Post. "I was going to go to college." It didn't turn out that way. Instead there were jobs and kids and a gradual growing up — and apart. "Our interests were very different," Mary says. "It wasn't that we didn't like each other as people, we just no longer had that much in common."

And so, Mary and Bill got a divorce. But when they did, they made another set of vows. "We kind of made a commitment at the time to get along," Bill tells KARE-11. "And to not do anything poorly to each other and to the kids. You know all those bad divorce things, we agreed not to do that."

It's something many couples say when they're getting a divorce. But Mary and Bill meant it. And when new spouses entered the picture, their love story only grew. "I always say that Bill never left our family, but his wife Linda joined it," Mary says. "I consider Linda a gift to my kids and me, and to Bill, and one of the best things that ever happened to all of us." When Mary remarried, Bill catered the reception.

While donating a kidney to an ex-spouse may seem unusual, Mary learned otherwise from one of the surgeons she spoke with. "He said it's more common than you think, especially when they're older like us," Ziegler tells KARE-11. "And for the same reasons. You share children. You share grandchildren. You're 60 years old and (know) what's important in life now."

A life that Bill and Mary will continue to share, thanks to her generous gift. "I'm hoping that he has another 20 great years," she says.

You can see Bill and Mary (and Bill's wife, Linda) talk about their story here. Then tell us what you think below before using the handy social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.