A newly married woman would spend her time enjoying her marital life with her husband, and not have a care in the world. But one new bride went above and beyond in an amazing act of kindness.
Debby Neal-Strickland recently married her longtime sweetheart at their Florida church after ten years of dating. And two days later, she went to the hospital to donate a kidney to Mylaen Merthe — her new husband’s ex-wife.
The story of love and compassion among the two wives of Jim Strickland is refreshing in comparison to the hatred and division we see in our society.
Mylaen, 59, had been in a long tough battle with kidney disease and last year she looked ghostly pale with dark circles under her eyes, going about her day with no energy. When she was admitted to the hospital in November, her kidneys were only functioning at 8%.
Her brother tried offering her his kidney but wasn’t a match so Debby volunteered. Jim and Mylaen were divorced for two decades, but they got along well as they raised their two children. Over the course of time, Jim fell in love with 56-year-old Debby and both the women had been meeting at family gatherings.
Debby was aware that Mylaen was about to become a grandmother for the first time as her daughter was pregnant. She thought about the situation where Mylaen’s daughter gave birth, “and her mom not being there. I just couldn’t not try to change that,” she said. “God told me, ‘You’re a match and you need to do this.'”
Debby and Jim are beautiful examples of givers, at their home in Ocala, they are raising six children, a 6-year-old girl with autism and five teenagers. Some of them are Debby’s biological grandchildren and some they are fostering.
Debby wanted to help Mylaen because she watched her brother die of cystic fibrosis while awaiting a double lung transplant. She had offered one of her lungs but wasn’t a match and he needed two. “When somebody needs an organ, if they don’t get it, they’re probably not going to make it. I know it’s something that you do quickly,” she said.
Debby qualified for the blood and tissue match and then went for complex testing all while handling the kids and even toting a urine collection jug for 24 hours! Mylaen at the same time did not want to be too optimistic and focused instead on her future as a grandmother. Debby “knew that’s all I ever wanted,” she said. She “did it from her heart.”
After months of testing and COVID delays, the kidney transplant was to happen two days after Jim and Debby’s wedding. Debby wanted to postpone the wedding, but friends discouraged her as they had already waited 10 years, canceling twice when their children had announced their own engagements. They married Nov. 22. Jim wore a gray suit with a yellow shirt, “because he’s my single yellow rose,” Debby said.
Debby said that her wedding day was the most amazing day of her life, and two days later, that too was the most amazing day of her life. She immediately asked about Mylaen after regaining consciousness and a few floors below, Mylaen too pleaded with the nurses saying, “`I need to see her.’ That was the first thing out of my mouth.”
Jim wheeled his new wife into his ex-wife’s room. “We had our masks on too, so we’re crying, and of course our stomachs were hurting because of the incisions,” Mylaen said. “We kinda laughed and cried.”
Debby could already see the difference. The circles under Mylaen’s eyes were gone, “she looked so alive and revitalized.” Mylaen moved in with her daughter, son-in-law and new baby Jackson to recuperate.
“I got to hold him and feed him,” said Mylaen, who welcomed a second grandson in March. “I was like, ‘I’m actually here to see this and I’m holding this little baby.’” The women prefer to be known as ‘kidney sisters’, pray for each other, dote on their grandbabies, and are going to take a family trip to Lake Rabun, Georgia, this summer.
“This is what the world is about. Family. We need to stick together,” Mylaen said. “She saved my life.”