A pair of co-workers at an Atlanta hospital saved their husbands’ lives through kidney donation after discovering their blood types matched.
Tia Wimbush and Susan Ellis have been part of the IT department at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for 10 years and in 2019 they got to know that both of their husbands were suffering from kidney disease and needed transplants.
The women said that they shared with one another about their struggle till they realized one day while washing hands in the washroom that they could actually help each other in a major way.
Tia asked Susan about her husband Lance’s blood type and found out it was O negative which was a match with her type O. Tia’s husband Rodney’s type AB was a match with Susan’s type A.
‘All that was going through my head is: “What if we can donate our kidneys to each other’s husbands?” I could have never imagined it,’ Tia said. Wimbush called her donor coordinator to begin the process of confirming that the pair were a match for their spouses.
Rodney Wimbush’s typical school day was the day when he found out that his kidneys were failing him. In August 2019, the school teacher and coach wasn’t feeling well and the nurse at the school immediately sent him to the emergency room.
“It was extremely emotional,” Tia said. “Within an hour of running tests, they started saying things like, ‘Has anyone ever mentioned kidney failure to you?’ And we were like what’s happening? What are you talking about? What does this mean for us?”
Rodney Wimbush was diagnosed with kidney failure and chronic kidney disease and started undergoing dialysis to help him survive.
Meanwhile, Lance Ellis, Susan’s husband, had been diagnosed with kidney disease in 2010 and after he received a kidney transplant from his mother in 2017, he thought he would lead a healthy life henceforth. But he got back into renal failure in August 2019, when his body rejected his mother’s kidney.
In 2020, both men were put on the transplant list with a wait time of five years. With their husbands struggling, Tia and Susan were trying their level best to find kidney donors before their husbands’ lives were in danger.
“There was always the fear of the unknown, the fear of the worst-case scenario that’s looming,” Tia said. “We just never knew what could happen in just a single moment.” But after the confirmation that they could be matches, Tia and Susan underwent blood type and antibody tests that confirmed it.
Tia ended up being a match for her husband, but she and Rodney decided to help save Lance with the paired exchange as he wasn’t able to find a donor due to his rare blood type.
On March 19, 2021, the four friends were operated at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta where Tia gave Lance her kidney, and Susan gave Rodney hers. All four surgeries went smoothly and Lance and Rodney’s bodies accepted the new kidneys.
“It is very rare for two immunologically incompatible pairs to propose their own paired exchange and actually be a match for one another,” Christina Klein, a transplant nephrologist at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, said in a statement. “I have been a transplant nephrologist since 2008 working in active living donation and paired kidney exchange programs, and I have personally never seen this happen before.”
The couples have grown really closer after the transplant, “It’s beyond friendship. They really are family,” Tia said. “We all took a leap of faith in doing this and now we are forever connected, always rooting each other on in both the recovery process and in this second chance of life.”
Lance said, “The Wimbushes are our family and are the best people we have ever met. We are looking forward to spending time together and making new healthy memories,” he said.
The two women were welcomed back to work by a crowd of cheering colleagues, most of them in tears, according to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, which shared a video on social media. Tia and Susan hope that by sharing their story, others will be inspired to become donors and be a little kinder to one another.
“I’m forever changed. I’m hopeful for humanity and I hope other people will take that away from this story,” Tia said. “You can be somebody else’s hope, it could be you to show someone a glimpse of what humanity really means.”