Strangers Become Friends Through Kidney Donation

Northeast Alabama
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DEKALB COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) -- A Rainsville educator is getting to enjoy her summer break for the first time in years, thanks to a kidney donation from a stranger.

DeKalb County Schools software specialist Paula Nance is no longer restricted by dialysis, and is planning a trip to visit south Alabama and Louisiana.

"I'm going to be able to pack what I want and not have to worry about packing a trunk load of dialysis supplies.  Since I did it at home, I had to carry all my stuff with me, and even at that, I still had to make sure I scheduled time for the dialysis, so I wasn't still free when I went off somewhere to be able to do what I wanted to do all the time," Nance said.

Connie Hughes gave Nance a kidney in September, one day before Nance's birthday.

They shared mutual friends, and Hughes heard Nance had been on a transplant list for several years but could not find a match.  Many people got tested to see if they could be a living donor, and Hughes added Nance to her prayer list in the summer of 2012.

"I saw her need and began to pray that she would find what she needed," Hughes said.

"In a time of prayer, God told me I could do it," and she decided to get tested.

They matched.

"To me it was an answer to a deeper prayer, just that I could make a difference, which is something that I had been praying previous to do that.  That God could use my life to make a difference in the world," Hughes said.

They finally met in July and scheduled surgery for September.  Doctors removed Nance's two failed kidneys, which were swollen to more than twice the size of a normal kidney as a result of a hereditary polycystic kidney disease she suffered from for about 15 years.

Doctors told her she might need to remain on dialysis for three to four days after receiving Hughes's kidneys, but she said her body accepted the kidney before surgery was over.

"I didn't lose it.  I know where it's at.  It's not lost, it's being utilized," Hughes said.

Nance said she is still on medicine to keep her from rejecting the kidney, but does not have to be worried about germs all the time.  She can play a lot more with her grandson.

"I catch myself, almost daily, thinking of something or doing something where I'm like, 'wow, I couldn't do this nine months ago'.  It's amazing," she said.

One of the biggest freedoms is related to food.  She spent a month at the hospital recovering from the transplant, but about a week after the surgery, doctors allowed her to have ice cream.  It wasn't standard hospital sherbet, it was a hot fudge sundae.

Ice cream.  Chocolate.  Nuts.  All foods she was not allowed to eat due to her kidney failure and ongoing dialysis.  It was so exciting, Nance sent text messages to all her friends.

But as for what food excited her the most?

"Cheese.  I would say cheese is probably the top.  Some people would probably say, wow, you mean it's not chocolate?  Yeah, cheese, it's a biggie," Nance said.

Giving up a kidney is also a "biggie," but Hughes is glad, and her scars mean a lot to her.

"They do.  They do.  It's a badge of honor," she said.

Nance's father honors Hughes daily by a carrying a picture of her in his wallet.

The pair frequently speak to groups in DeKalb County about the importance of organ donation, and talked to kids at a vacation bible school Wednesday night.

"I was thinking last night after I got home about the kids and telling them what [Connie] has done, that wow, she is amazing.  She is amazing, yes she is," Nance said.

"It's amazing that she would do that and then I got to thinking and I thought, what's more even amazing than the gift of the kidney to me is just the gift, her willingness to follow God, because her giving me the kidney was the result of something, it wasn't the actual thing.

"Her being dedicated to God and her willingness to follow God's leadership, that is the main thing.  If she hadn't have been willing to have done that, the kidney would never have happened.  To me her obedience to God is the biggest thing and I really admire her and I'm eternally grateful of course to her for what she's done," Nance said.

She and Hughes said if you feel led to donate an organ, don't hesitate.  Do it.

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