A fortunate stroke of serendipity occurred one day when two co-workers, Tia Wimbush and Susan Ellis, of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta struck up a conversation while washing their hands in the ladies’ room. It was just casual chit-chat since the women didn’t know each other well although they both worked in the hospital’s IT department.
But sometimes a conversation with a close stranger presents an opportunity to unload troubles weighing heavily on the heart. Coincidentally, both women discovered during their talk that their husbands both had been placed on the national kidney transplant waiting list. Their wives nor any other family members had proven to be a match. Both husbands needed a new kidney. Ellis’ husband, Lance, was placed on the list in 2019 and Wimbush’s husband, Rodney, in 2020. The husbands had accepted it would be a long wait before they could be transplanted. According to the American Kidney Fund, transplant patients can wait five years or longer for their name to come up to receive a kidney from a cadaver donor. The wives worried their husbands couldn’t wait that long.
There’s an old saying that goes, “We have not because we ask not.” The women, apparently accustomed to looking for an opportunity to help heal and save their husbands, turned to each other and asked, “What’s your husband’s blood type?” Ellis replied O and Wimbush replied AB. For a few seconds, they stared at each other. Wimbush broke the silence, she said to Susan, “Wait a second — what are the odds that we’re both going through this with our husbands at the same time and we could also be in a position to help them?’” Wimbush recalled, “That’s when we both knew: We had to get tested.”
Cathy Free reported in the Washington Post, “Antibody tests revealed that each woman was an excellent match for the other’s spouse. So, in March, seven months after that chance conversation, Wimbush donated one of her kidneys to Lance Ellis, 41, and Susan Ellis donated one of hers to Rodney Wimbush, 45.”
Free also wrote, “Christina Klein, a nephrologist and medical director of Piedmont’s kidney transplant program, said, ‘It is extremely rare for two people to propose their own paired organ exchange and actually be a match for each other. I’ve personally never seen this happen. When we put pairs into large databases for national paired exchange programs, some pairs wait months or even years for a compatible match.’”
Clark Kensinger, the surgeon who handled the donor operations, said, “The four surgeries lasted about three to four hours each and were executed with no complications.”
Susan Ellis and Tia Wimbush now regularly speak out to encourage and inspire others to become living organ donors.
The two couples plan to celebrate the success of the two transplants this fall when they attend the first college game of Rodney and Tia Wimbush’s son. Tia summed up their experience, “I guess you could say we’ve skipped the friendship. We’re family now.”
Bill Catlette, of Contented Cow Partners, is a long-time supporter of organ donation. He’s also an advocate for transplant patients and works to help ensure that anyone who needs a transplant receives a transplant regardless of their financial status. Bill left a lighthearted observation in the comment section at the Washington Post, “Tia and Susan bear witness to the strategic strength of having women on your team. Two guys in a restroom would NEVER have gotten to this wonderful conclusion.”
On a more serious note, Bill also encourages people to do two things to help facilitate organ transplantation: (1) become an organ donor; and (2) support the work of organizations like the National Foundation for Transplants with a financial contribution.