Like many colleagues, Tia Wimbush and Susan Ellis hadn’t seen each other for a while in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
So when they bumped into one another in the bathroom of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, where they have both worked for the past 10 years, they were eager to catch up.
Susan and Tia had something in common besides their jobs. Both had husbands who were on the kidney transplant donation list, and they struck up a conversation about the challenges of waiting for the gift of life.
Tia’s husband, Rodney Wimbush, is a high school teacher and father of two. In August 2019, his blood pressure spiked, and he was taken to the hospital by ambulance. There, doctors discovered that he had kidney failure, and he was immediately put on dialysis. As if that wasn’t stressful enough, COVID-19 made the organ transplant process take even longer than usual.
Susan could relate to her story. Her husband, Lance Ellis, received a kidney from his mother a few years ago, but his body rejected it. After going into acute renal failure, he too was put on dialysis. Sometimes, he had to be hooked up to the lifesaving machines for up to six hours a day.
“It hampers your quality of life,” Lance told GMA. “There’s nothing easy about it. When I would get unhooked from that machine, I would feel worse.”
As Tia and Susan talked, they discovered that while their blood types did not match their own husbands, they did match each other’s! They hatched a plan to get tested to see if Tia could give a healthy kidney to Lance, while Susan could give one of hers to Rodney.
“My thought immediately was that we could help each other and stop the suffering of two families,” Tia said. “I called Rodney immediately, and he and I were both just committed to moving forward and trying to help two families.”
When the tests came back, both families were elated. They were a match! Their transplants were scheduled for December, but a setback with Lance’s health delayed them. Then Susan tested positive for COVID a day before the rescheduled date in January. Finally, after months of waiting, the four of them checked into Piedmont Atlanta Hospital on March 19.
Both transplants were a complete success! “After being sick for so long, you forget what feeling good feels like,” Lance said. “After waking up from that surgery, you feel capable of anything. It’s life-changing.”
While surgery is never easy, Tia has no regrets. “I’d absolutely do it again,” she explained. “The feeling that I had after surgery is one that I almost can’t describe, just the hope and joy that I felt knowing that my kidney could be a part of the process that helped two people have a better quality of life, after seeing what they’ve gone through in their kidney disease journey.”
The two couples are now bonded for life and consider each other family. “I worry more about Lance than I do myself,” Rodney said. “I’ll always be grateful to Susan for doing what she did.”
The Wimbush and Ellis families hope that people will hear their story and decide to give the gift of life themselves. They also want to encourage more conversations like the one Tia and Susan had that fateful day. You never know when a simple check-in will lead to something amazing!
Share this story to wish them all well in their recovery.
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