Co-workers Tia Wimbush and Susan Ellis were each other’s support system as both of their husbands went into kidney failure and needed transplants. But in a miraculous twist of fate, Tia and Susan discovered they were the key to saving their husbands’ lives by becoming kidney donors.
Co-workers at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the two women had formed a close bond in 2019, when they discovered both of their husbands had gone into kidney failure within days of each other.
Both men were in desperate need of kidney transplants, but in the year since they had been put on dialysis, neither was having any luck finding a donor. That’s when a simple chat changed their lives.
A Life-Changing Conversation
The women first saw the solution when they ran into each other in the bathroom. Susan explained her husband was on the list for donors as Tia, who had just started the process with her husband, Rodney, listened intently. “I was tested to see if I could be a match for Lance, but I wasn’t.”
“What’s Lance’s blood type?” Tia asked.
“O negative,” Susan replied. “He needs a donor with type O blood.”
Instantly, Tia froze, a jolt of excitement shooting through her. Her blood type was O positive. And as the two women continued chatting, Tia learned that Susan’s blood type was A positive— a possible compatible match for Rodney’s AB positive.
All of us might be able to match! Tia thought, her heart thrumming as she remembered something she’d learned about a paired kidney exchange, which occurs when a living kidney donor is incompatible with their recipient, but matches another person on the wait list.
“What if we did an exchange of our own?” Tia mused aloud.
“Wow…would you really consider that? Do you think we could?” Susan answered, her mind buzzing. And as the women left the bathroom, a spark of hope flared to life in each of their hearts.
A Loving Exchange
Back at their desks, Tia and Susan each called their husbands and shared the idea, then checked with their respective donor coordinators to see if such an exchange was even possible. “We’ve never done it before, but I don’t see a reason why you wouldn’t be able to,” Tia’s coordinator assured.
And as the friends began testing to see if they could indeed be the kidney donors that each of their husbands needed, they were cautiously optimistic that they’d miraculously finally found the answer they had been looking for. Within a month, they got the news: Tia was a match for both her husband, Rodney, and Lance, while Susan was an even better match for Rodney. Hearing that, Tia knew what she had to do.
“I’m donating my kidney to Lance!” she told Susan, her heart soaring.
“And I’m giving mine to Rodney,” Susan responded, beaming back as they both realized the magnitude of the miracle that was about to take place.
Hope — and Hearts — Renewed
In March 2021, the couples arrived at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital for their surgeries. All the operations were a success, and soon Susan and Lance, who felt well enough to walk within a few days, headed to Rodney’s hospital room.
Seeing him sitting up and talking with Susan, Tia’s heart filled with joy. And when Rodney flashed her a smile and a thumbs-up, it was all Susan could do to keep from crying. “It was a moment of pure goodness and grace,” says Susan, who is happy to report that Lance is also doing great. “Two men got the kidneys they needed, which is a blessing. But Tia and I are also blessed. Some of the strongest relationships we have in our lives are with women we can relate to. That’s what Tia and I started out as: two women sharing an experience. Our story is a story about kindness and the power of lifting each other up.”
For Tia, who says she’s never seen her husband so happy and healthy, it is a story about hope. “What are the chances that the two of us were going through the same thing at the same time?” she muses. “And that through just offering each other support, we were able to do this? All it takes is listening to that voice inside that nudges us to do something for someone else. You never know—you could be someone else’s answered prayer!”