The Amazing Ways 8 Extraordinary People Said “I Love You”

Sometimes, the people we love deserve more than chocolate and flowers.

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He carved 6,000 steps

He carved 6,000 steps AP Images
In Gaotan, China, in 1942, Liu Guojiang came upon a woman and one of her daughters who had tumbled into a river while washing clothes. Liu rescued them—and promptly fell in love with the woman, Xu Chaoqing. She considered Liu a hero, but some community members didn’t approve of the couple’s ten-year age difference. So Xu and Liu eloped, and they and Xu’s four children retreated to an abandoned straw hut in the mountains of Chongqing. Worried that his wife would get injured on the small, steep trail between the hut and the town below, Liu spent 57 years—and broke 36 steel chisels—carving 6,000 steps by hand into the mountainside to ensure that his wife could ascend and descend without trouble. Liu maintained the stone staircase until his death, in 2007, at the age of 72. Xu passed away on October 30, 2012. The two are buried on the same mountain where they’d built their lives together.     —Alison Caporimo

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He tracked down a kidney

He tracked down a kidneyKen Ruinard/Independent Mail
When doctors told Larry Swilling, 77, that his wife 
Jimmie Sue’s only kidney was failing, he knew he had 
to do something quickly. Larry couldn’t donate to his wife of 57 years, and Jimmie Sue, 76, was too sick to wait three years or more for an anonymous kidney donation. So Larry took to the streets of the couple’s town of Anderson, South Carolina, wearing a homemade sign that read Need Kidney 4 Wife in big red letters. Larry got some strange looks as he hung around busy street corners, but “I don’t care what people think,” he told CBS News. “She looks after me, and I look after her.” After the local news covered the story, Larry’s act of love went viral, inspiring more than 100 strangers to get tested to donate to Jimmie Sue. Nearly a year after Larry began his unconventional search, the couple found a match, and Jimmie Sue underwent surgery to receive a kidney from Kelly Weaverling, a 41-year-old retired Navy lieutenant commander from Virginia. Says Kelly, “I just had a feeling that it was the right thing to do.”    —A. J.

They got him down the aisle

They got him down the aisleCourtesy of University Hospitals Case Medical Center (Cleveland, OH)
Last October, ICU nurses at the University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center in Cleveland gave patient Scott Nagy special assistance. They carefully buttoned a crisp white shirt over his breathing tube, helped him into a black sport jacket, and pinned a red rose to his lapel. Diagnosed two months earlier with terminal urethral cancer, Nagy was determined to attend his daughter Sarah’s wedding. “Scott is the most courageous person I’ve ever met,” says nurse-practitioner Jacky Uljanic. “He’d say, ‘No matter what, I’m going to make it to the wedding.’” Twelve medical professionals made it happen. Some helped load the 56-year-old into an ambulance, while others monitored his ventilator. Two nurses even wheeled him down the aisle in his hospital bed as he held hands with Sarah. Says Jacky of Scott, who passed away less than a month later, “[He] allowed us to look outside the box of traditional medical care. I was honored to help him.”   —D. B.

She gave her girls sight

She gave her girls sightMiller Mobley/Redux for Reader’s Digest
Monique Zimmerman-Stein, already blind in her right eye from a rare genetic disorder, began to lose sight in her left eye in 2007. Her doctor informed her about injections of Avastin that might help treat her condition, but they were terribly expensive. Monique and her husband, Gary, had used up most of their savings, but they decided to put the cash toward eye treatments for their daughters Aliyah, 
now 14, and Davida, 17, who also have the disorder. 
(Monique’s eldest daughter, Ariel, 26, doesn’t have the condition.) “I’ll give up anything to make sure that my girls have what they need,” says Monique, 53, who is now completely without sight and is an advocate for the blind. Says Aliyah, “Mom taught me that you have to do what’s right for the people you love.” Despite Monique’s efforts, there is still a good chance that her daughters will lose their sight eventually. So she encourages the girls to help their neighbors and to look closely and carefully at the world, then close their eyes and tell her what they see. Says Monique, “I want them to see everything they can until they can’t.”        —A. C.

He caught a homecoming

He caught a homecomingCourtesy of the Mississippi Braves
Darla Harlow had been selected to throw out the first pitch at a home game of the Mississippi Braves, a minor-league baseball team outside Jackson, Mississippi. Without her husband, Michael, there—he was on duty in Afghanistan as an Army major—she was excited to pitch in front of her two daughters, Casey and Molly Carol. Darla stood on the pitcher’s mound and launched a baseball toward the catcher at home plate. Oddly, he let the ball fall. In one quick move, he snapped off his mask. It was Michael. “I couldn’t think,” Darla told a local news organization. “I had no clue what was happening.” Michael had spent months planning the surprise with his daughters and the Braves. He told reporters, “This is something we’ll never forget.”    —Alyssa Jung

He wrote to Santa

He wrote to SantaMiller Mobley/Redux for Reader’s Digest
Eight-year-old Ryan Suffern didn’t ask for toys or gadgets in his letter to Santa last year. Instead, he made a simple plea for his twin sister, Amber. “I wanted a remote control car and helicopter, but I don’t anymore,” Ryan wrote. “Kids at school are still picking on Amber. I prayed that they [would] stop, but God is busy and needs your help.” CNN got wind of the letter after the twins’ mother, Karen, shared the story on Facebook, and the media attention sparked an outpouring of support. Nickelodeon star Stephen Kramer Glickman sent a video message to the twins, and strangers have donated gifts to the family. When Ryan and Amber went back to their Rocky Mount Prep school in North Carolina after their holiday break, the bullying had ceased. “I have new friends,” Ryan told his mother. “They are going to look out for Amber too.”     —Damon Beres

They created an imaginary night world

They created an imaginary night world Courtesy Refe Tuma
Refe and Susan Tuma of Kansas City, Missouri, were in desperate need of shut-eye. Their children—Adeia, six; Alethea, five; and Leif, two—rarely slept through the night, and it was taking a toll on the family. “We found ourselves putting the kids in front of the TV [instead of] engaging with them,” says Refe. Surprisingly, a solution came in the form of plastic toy dinosaurs. For 30 nights in “Dinovember,” Refe and Susan posed the figures to depict scenes of mayhem and mischief—a raucous recording session, a dish-washing disaster, the interrogation of a Ninja Turtle. Now the kids can’t wait to go to bed as they eagerly await the results of the nightly shenanigans. The Tumas urge other parents to try this at home. “Plastic dinosaurs are something every child has,” says Refe. “But no one ever thinks about [using them] like this.” —Beth Dreher

She just makes Jell-o

She just makes Jell-oMiller Mobley/Redux for Reader’s Digest
While my 89-year-old grandmother, Donna, doesn’t bother to remember minor details like who I am or why I’m at her house, she vividly recalls conversations we may or may not have had many years ago. Apparently, while making awkward small talk over dinner, I once said, “This Jell-O is good.” She took that to mean, “This is my favorite food of all time, and if you don’t continue to make it, 
I will burn down your house.” The next time I visited, she had a bowl of orange Jell-O with mandarin oranges in it just for me. I had to be polite, so I ate it all. She took that to mean I didn’t think there was enough, so the next time, she made even more. For each visit since then, she’s made progressively larger quantities of the semisolid foodstuff. Noticing my predicament, the rest of my family stopped eating any of it because they are jerks and think it’s funny to watch me jam a cubic yard of gelatin down my throat. They won’t be laughing when I die from a fatal overdose of the stuff. Actually, they probably will, especially when my grandma makes a bathtubful of Jell-O for the funeral potluck.   —James Breakwell

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