At a small office building in Cedartown, Ga, a team of AT&T employees huddled by their manager’s desk. People walking by may not have noticed that there was something different about this meeting. Those in attendance knew that this one was life or death.
Kela Dean’s sister needed a kidney. Wendy Montgomery, Kela’s co-worker was giving her one. Right now. This emotional team huddle was waiting for the news.
Kela recalls coming to work one morning. She talked to her sister, Marcember Phillips, through each of her dialysis treatments. Her blood pressure tended to get low during the procedures. Kela says, “I’m the designated one to get her mad and get her blood pressure back up!”
That morning, Kela didn’t have time to talk to her sister. She was in tears as she went into the office.
Their office had just been reconfigured and Kela sat with a group of people she normally didn’t see much. Wendy Montgomery was one of her new office neighbors. She asked what was wrong.
“I was at a really bad point that day,” says Kela. Worried about her sister’s worsening kidney issues she told Wendy about her sister. Kela mentioned in passing that Wendy might know her. Marcember worked in this office about ten years before. Wendy did vaguely remember her.
Now, Marcember was on a donor list. Kela’s whole family – even previous co-workers – had tried to be donors but no one was a match. Thinking back, Wendy says, “I could just tell Kela felt helpless at that point.”
So Wendy read. She read about kidney disease. About the incredible waiting list that people with kidney issues face, the few options after dialysis runs its course. About how many factors can knock family members out of being able to give to their own relatives. Most of all, Wendy accepted what God had laid on her heart to do.
She would give Marcember a kidney. She told her husband, Kevin. He said something along the lines of, “Um, no…what are you thinking?”
Wendy met a fair amount of criticism she wasn’t expecting. Family and community members were worried for her health. And what if her own family needed a kidney down the road?
“You are a policeman,” Wendy told her husband. “If you were on patrol and saw a burning car, you’d not even think about getting out and saving the person in that car.” From then on, he was her biggest supporter.
The next day, Wendy told her office mate that she would give her sister a kidney.
“You’re going to do what?” was Kela’s first reaction. She laughs about it now. “People say that all the time but you think they are kidding. I figured she was just being nice and would eventually change her mind.”
Marcember did her own reading. She was hesitant. She didn’t want to get her hopes up in case something went wrong. After making the big decision to pursue the transplant, Kela remembers telling her sister, “This lady is really going to give you a kidney, let’s get going!”
They called Emory University Hospital and started the testing procedures.
After about 8 months of testing and counseling, it was time to meet in the hospital waiting room. Finally both families were all together. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Even those that weren’t a part of the two families where hugging them.
After the families met, they shared a prayer and Wendy and Marcember went their separate ways.
They woke up about 8:00 that evening. The first priority for both was asking about the other.
Back at the Cedartown office the AT&T team was huddled by Kim Water’s desk. As Wendy’s supervisor, she was in constant contact with Kevin the whole day. Around 11:00 a.m., Kim received this text from Kevin: The kidney is out. Wendy is good and has about another hour of surgery. About 40 minutes later: Both of them are great. Marcember has the kidney and all is good.
In recovery, Marcember remembers the doctors and nurses telling her that the kidney was a perfect match because it was small like hers. Wendy’s kidney fit perfectly into the spot where Marcember’s troublesome one sat. They didn’t have to do reconfiguring.
Both Wendy and Marcember smile and say they knew that’s what God had planned.
All is well
“You don’t know what part your kidney plays in your health until you go through this,” says Marcember feeling more energetic and alive since the moment she woke up in recovery. “I’m so grateful that they’ve come so far with this procedure. I don’t take 20-30 meds like people think. I actually feel really good.”
Wendy says after a couple of 6-month check-ins she’s all done. She says she feels great. She also points to advances in this process. She says that the experience is different for each person but stresses that there is so much testing and counseling now beforehand that it really isn’t bad. You know what you are getting into and how you will do going into it. Within two weeks, she was back to her normal routine. “I’ve got my heels on. I’m good,” she laughs.
“What I got out of it was more than anything I could have ever put into it. She did everything for us – I don’t want to go out and tell anybody I did anything special. I was humbled to be part of this,” says Wendy.
Both women will tell you it is not an easy decision. We both gave something and we both got something they say.
“It’s amazing when God lays it on someone’s heart to be a blessing to you,” says Marcember. “You never know what it’s doing for them. It connects you in a way I can’t explain. Wendy is my sister and we are family.”