He didn’t know it yet, but the woman who would save Kevin Howell’s life was sitting in the very next room. Kevin’s kidneys had failed, and his chances of survival were hovering in the single digits. But he didn’t know that yet, either.
Sitting at his desk at NC State University, Kevin just knew something didn’t feel right. He was nauseated, fatigued, and he had a metallic taste in his mouth that wouldn’t go away.
“I knew I needed to get to the hospital,” he said. “I was trying to gather my strength to walk through that door so my colleagues wouldn’t see how sick I was.”
On the other side of his office wall, his colleague of five years, Lindsay Recchie, had no idea anything was wrong.
Kevin drove to UNC Hospital, where his doctor did blood work and returned with devastating news.
“Dr. Falk looked at me and said, ‘Your kidneys have failed,’” Kevin said. “’Both of them.’”
The lab results painted a stark picture: Kevin’s creatinine – a measure of kidney function – was 28, exactly 20 times the normal level.
“That day, reality hit me hard,” he said. “I didn’t know if I had a future with my wife and two daughters. I didn’t know if I was going to live or die.”
Kevin was admitted to the hospital, but word of his diagnosis soon traveled back to his colleagues at NC State. When Lindsay learned Kevin needed a kidney transplant, she was shocked. He was one of the healthiest people she knew.
It wasn’t until he returned to work after starting dialysis treatments that the severity of the situation sunk in for Lindsay.
“We had worked together for five years at that point, and he has always been such an upbeat, positive person. Never says a bad word about anything. Always looks on the bright side. But when he came in that week, he was a defeated man,” she said. “He just had given up.”
His shock had given way to depression. He felt sure that somehow, the kidney failure was his fault, and he couldn’t picture a future where he was healthy and thriving again.
Kevin’s wife, Aleta, had begun searching for a donor, but they hadn’t yet found a match, and there were no guarantees they would. Their best bet was a living donor, someone in good health who shared Kevin’s blood type of O-positive.
Before Kevin’s diagnosis, Lindsay didn’t even know living donation was possible, let alone what her blood type was. She logged into her medical charts and tracked down records from an old knee surgery.
“It said O-positive, and I just got chills,” she said. “When I saw O-positive, I was like, ‘This is supposed to work.’ I just knew. I thought, ‘This is what I’m going to do. I’m going to give it everything I have. This is going to work.’”
She called Kevin’s transplant coordinator, who asked her to come to the hospital for a few more tests and questions about her medical history. That Tuesday at work, she received a call with the results. She was a perfect match.
Lindsay ran to Kevin’s office in tears. “’They called!’” she yelled. “This is happening.”
At first, Kevin was in disbelief.
“I couldn’t comprehend that on the other side of that wall was a young lady sitting at her desk and she was my perfect match,” he said. “I felt like, ‘What did I do to deserve a kidney?’ I was shocked – shocked that a colleague would be willing to do something like that for me.”
For Lindsay, though, it was a pretty simple calculation.
“Thirteen people die a day waiting for a kidney,” she said. “I couldn’t let Kevin be one of them.”
In the U.S., more than 3,000 people are added to the kidney waiting list each month. Most people wait almost four years for a transplant, and many die or become too sick for surgery before a kidney becomes available.
If Lindsay had anything to do with it, that wasn’t going to happen to Kevin. She continued working with the transplant team, who assessed her physical and emotional readiness for surgery.
Meanwhile, Kevin and Aleta prepared for the impending change in their lives.
“I was sitting there like, ‘Well, I’m going to have to mortgage the house,’” he said, but thankfully, his insurance plan covered the cost of his surgery along with Lindsay’s. At Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, plans provide benefits for both the transplant patient and the living donor. The state of North Carolina also provides 30 days of paid leave for state employees serving as living organ donors. That meant both Kevin and Lindsay could focus on what was most important, and that was saving Kevin’s life.
On the day of their surgery, the pair gathered with loved ones to pray for a successful surgery. That was the moment he realized he was going to get another chance at life.
“All I knew is I just wanted to live. I wanted a second chance to see my daughters go on to graduate. A second chance at a life where I wouldn’t be on dialysis for five, 10, 15, 20 years,” he said, “spending the rest of my life hooked up to a machine.”
He got that second chance.
Today, six years later, Kevin and Lindsay remain good friends and colleagues. Kevin jokes that after the transplant, he inherited Lindsay’s love of chocolate and country music.
“I told her, ‘You can’t have this kidney back!’” he joked.
Lindsay smiled. “It’s yours to keep.”
Life after transplant is bright for Kevin, who is active, healthy, and enjoying every second of time with his family, friends, and colleagues. He said he notices all the good in the world now, never taking for granted the good-natured people in his life.
While Lindsay says donating her kidney was an easy decision, and one that has had no negative effects on her life and health, Kevin knows what an incredible gift it was.
“I could’ve been a statistic. There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not truly grateful to Lindsay, to God…” he said. “It’s amazing, and it’s a miracle.”
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