BESSEMER CITY, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — There are over 200 shopping days until Christmas and too many hearty laughs to count.
Even so, one local family is ready to celebrate early with a special gift of life: a kidney.
“Did you hear what he said?” Greene said to a friend at 161 Flea Market, laughing on a recent Friday morning as he does just about every day as the co-owner.
His wife Anna gave the social butterfly another fitting title.
“Social director ha!” Joe said with his trademark laugh.
The best days are spent cutting up with vendors and customers, his way of life for 22 years.
“I hear you, buddy; you’ve got to work for a living, ha!” he said to one of his people.
The jovial man is known as ‘Santa’ during the holidays in Bessemer City, but the jolly demeanor is audible all year.
“This is the best job I’ve ever had in my life,” he explained. “Walking around doing nothing except to talk to people, ha!”
“He just loves to come out here and visit with people,” Anna Greene told Queen City News.
In April, his family stunned him with a cluster of balloons.
“I said who’s birthday is it?” Joe recalled.
One balloon read ‘Kidney 4 Santa.’
That’s when Joe was told a woman had come forward to give him the gift of life.
The donor is his daughter’s friend.
“It just broke me down, you know,” Joe said.
Last year, the Greenes decided to go public with a ‘Santa’s Wish List,’ painted on his vehicle window. A kidney was the only thing on that list. They launched the ‘Kidney for Santa‘ Facebook page and sat down for an interview with Queen City News. His daughters made an emotional plea last December.
“They call it in the kidney donation circle ‘The big ask, the big give.’ So you have to ask big and give big,” Melissa Greene said, tearing up.
The leads that followed our story kept Joe cautiously optimistic as experts screened potential donors.
“They know what they’re doing; they ain’t taking no chances with nobody,” Joe explained to a gentleman at the flea market.
The recent news about that ‘big ask’ being answered feels like a big relief.
“It’s unbelievable somebody would be that kind,” said Joe.
“I just want to thank this young lady again for everything she is doing for our family,” said Anna, feeling gratitude beyond measure. “[The family’s] just excited and overjoyed.”
Atrium Health’s living donor coordinator, Tania Feemster, says an organ search puts folks through an emotional ringer.
“You know he’s been waiting awhile, and we’ve gone through several potential donors that didn’t work,” Feemester said. “But he never gave up; the family never gave up.”
Experts say a living kidney donation lasts between 20-40 years, about double the years a kidney from a deceased donor usually lasts.
The transplant is set for later this summer, and to the Greenes, it’ll be like Christmas in August, not just for the family but for Joe’s social circle.
The prospect of a transplant gives Joe hope for many more laughs with his flea market cast of characters.
“Hollywood might discover me, ha!” a pal tells Joe at the grounds of 161 Flea Market.
“It’s like a big family,” Joe said.
While there are no guarantees until the transplant is complete, it feels like a weight will soon be lifted.
“It’s old people like us; we can do it,” said Greene, lifting a weight for sale at the flea market with his arm.