Prayers answered for couple

Monday, April 17, 2006

Once the lunch plates are cleared away on a sunny spring afternoon, two women at a local diner get a chance to share pictures, laugh and really talk together.

Aside from their hair color, one is blond and the other brunette, the friends seem to have a lot in common. They are both in their mid-fifties and attend the same denomination of church. They both have families and even enjoy the same kinds of wine.

But aside from these few shared features, there is no real apparent reason why the women would have met. They are from two different states and lead totally separate lives.

However, on the blonde woman's shoulder is a pin. It reads, "Donate Life", and it is a reminder of the shared prayer which brought the two together.

Prayers were the one thing Fillmore couple Karen Everett and her husband Rick could count on in September, 2005.

A diabetes patient, Karen, 55, had lost her ability to clean her blood naturally and had been undergoing various kidney dialysis treatments, including an innovative at-home therapy, three times a week for five years. In April, 2004, she had been put on the waiting list for an organ transplant at the Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis.

While the two knew they had the spiritual support of their fellow parishioners at Fillmore United Methodist Church, without a doubt most of the pleas for a new kidney for Karen had been coming from Rick's aunt Betty, who died in September of a heart attack.

"On Monday was her funeral," Karen Everts said. "I couldn't walk to the gravesite, so I waited in the car. As soon as the group disbanded from the graveside, (a doctor with the IU Medical Center) called and said, 'I've got a kidney for you.'"

Family members agreed, the timing was no coincidence.

"(Rick Everts cousin) said, "Mom went to heaven and said, 'She's got to get a kidney," Karen Everts recalls.

In most cases, when an organ recipient receives the news that they may have a donor, they are asked to report to the hospital as soon as possible. This is because when a kidney is taken from a cadaver, the organ begins to break down immediately. In order for the transplant to be successful, the surgery has to take place right away.

However, when Karen Everts got the call from doctors, she was told to be at the hospital four days later.

It turned out, her donation would be unique.

The doctors at the Medical Center had never seen a case like it. In October, 2004, Paula Meece, a healthy, sane, 55-year-old woman, told the staff of the hospital's organ transplant program she wanted to give away one of her kidneys.

And what's more, she told the doctors she wanted her organ to go to just anybody, a total stranger.

"I had to talk them into doing it," Meece, who lives in Danville Ill. said. "They couldn't understand why I would want to give a perfectly healthy kidney to someone I don't know."

But she had her reasons.

In July, 2003, she had started the process of donating a kidney to her mother, June, who had lost the use of her kidneys because of high blood pressure. She had been on dialysis for more than a year when her children talked her into accepting a donation from her daughter.

Soon after, however, June had a heart attack and was no longer eligible to receive the organ transplant. In July she made the decision to stop taking dialysis, and shortly after she stopped treatments in August, she died.

After June's death, Meece said she couldn't forget what her mother had gone through while on dialysis.

The once energetic shop-till-you drop woman had become week, lost all of the fat from her body and spent most of her time sleeping. And on top of all that, she had to spend hours each week in a dialysis center.

"It is just not a way of life," Meece said of dialysis patients.

It was with this in mind that she decided to donate her kidney, so that someone else might be spared some of the pain her mother had gone through.

"I didn't get to do it for my mother, so I did it in memory of her," Meece said of the donation she would ultimately make.

It is not uncommon for a relative or even a close friend to donate a kidney to a family member, or for the organ to be transplanted from a donor who had died suddenly. However, the hospital, one of the top transplant programs in the country, had never before had a healthy person volunteer to give up a kidney to someone they had never met.

After undergoing numerous tests, including psychological evaluation to make sure she would not back out once she was committed, they gave her the go-ahead. On Sept. 23, she went into surgery.

While in most cases a transplanted kidney will take a few days to really adapt to the recipients body, Everts said the organ she received from Meece began to work almost immediately.

"The kidney never cooled off," she said, explaining how transplant was different because it came from a live donor. "When a kidney is taken from a cadaver, it usually takes one or two dialysis treatments to start working again."

Although Meece had to spend some time in the hospital for an infection following the surgery, Everts has had none of the infections and other problems typical for a kidney transplant.

Careful not to violate any Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations during the procedure, staff at the hospital took extreme precautions to make sure the donation remained totally anonymous.

Karen Everts remembers that day.

"They told us to be there at 5:30 a.m. and not a moment before and not a moment after," she said. "They told Paula to be there at 5 a.m.."

Efforts were made to keep families of the women on separate floors and away from each other on the elevators and hallways, even though they had no idea what each other looked like.

However, a month after the procedure, doctors allowed the women and their families to meet. They first came face to face while Meece was still in the hospital, and since then have had several get-togethers, including meeting for lunch recently in Greencastle.

While they sometimes recount the ordeal they shared, they also like to chat about their lives and the things they have in common, like a positive prognosis for both women.

For Meece, this means being able to see first-hand the fruits of her effort.

"My dream came true," she said. "Someone was able to live without dialysis."

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