From People Magazine Heroes Among Us:

Broke and out of a job, she gives a child the gift of life

Troubled by back problems in 1996, Marian Neal gave up her job handling freight in Washington, D.C., for a shipping company. Broke and homeless, she moved in with a friend two years later in nearby Alexandria, Va. There she befriended Terrance Varner, a 7-year-old who lived with his grandmother Elaine Harris and whose kidneys were failing. To keep her little friend company, Neal, now 40, often accompanied him on his three weekly trips to dialysis at Washington's Children's National Medical Center. "I saw all the suffering the children went through there," she recalls, "and wondered what I could do to help." Then she had an idea.

Last December, Neal donated one of her kidneys to Terrance—an unusual offering in that only 4 percent of transplants come from people unrelated by blood or marriage. Thankfully medical tests showed that Neal and Terrance were a match.

"I didn't think it was a big step," says Neal. "I just wanted Terrance to be able to eat, drink and play like a normal boy." Grandmother Harris saw the December operation as a much bigger deal. "It's the best Christmas present I could ever have," she told The Washington Post.

Good deed aside, Neal again found herself homeless last August when her friend's brother moved back in. But her plight did not go unnoticed. Hearing about Neal, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo secured a one-bedroom apartment for her in Southwest D.C. Says Cuomo: "In an age when many people think only about themselves, she was totally selfless."

In addition to the apartment, Neal also received a free car from a local auto dealer so she could drive to classes at Northern Virginia Community College, where she is studying to become a social worker. "I made a way for Terrance," says Neal gratefully, "and God made a way for me."