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FOX Medical Team

Church member donates kidney to stranger

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ATLANTA -

Over the last few, difficult days, many of us have turned to our faith communities for guidance. For two Henry County men, their church is much more than a building, or a sanctuary -- it's the thread that has sewn the two of them, strangers until recently, together in an unbreakable bond.

At Henry County's Glen Haven Baptist Church, expectation and hope was in the air last Friday.

David Edwards was in need of a little bit of a Christmas miracle. The 43-year-old husband and father of two has polycystic kidney disease.

"My father has it, my brother and sister have it. It's where your kidneys are enlarged and they have cysts on them," Edwards said.

Doctors told David that he needed a transplant, but it could take 3 to 4 years to find a deceased donor. Until then, he may have needed to start dialysis.

"I just didn't want to go ask somebody, ‘Hey, will you go get tested, so I can have one of your kidneys?'  I didn't do anything like that," Edwards said.
    
David didn't have to thanks to John Hembree, who also is a Glen Haven member.
          
"I have, just until a couple of weeks ago, never had a conversation with David.  We had met briefly one time during a church service when people were just greeting each other," said Hembree.

But when David was added to a national transplant waiting list, and to the church's prayer list, one of John's daughters told him about David. The communications manager for Shorter University says he was struck by a question that wouldn't leave him alone.

"And that question was: why would God design the body with two kidneys and we only need one to live, if we weren't supposed to give one away,'" said Hembree.

John contacted Piedmont Hospital secretly to get tested to be David's donor.
           
"Quite honestly didn't really want anyone to know.  I didn't want anyone to look at me and say, ‘Gosh, what a great person!'  I am not a great person. There was a need there. I had two of something and I could help someone else," said Hembree.

John turned out to be  match, a good one.  Not sure how to tell David, John's family wrote David's family a letter:
 
"I wanted to make sure all the results were final before asking you this question: I have a 53 year old kidney…Would you like to have it?" the letter stated.

On December 14, John made good on his offer to David.

John's surgeon, Harrison Pollinger, delicately teased apart one of his kidneys using a DaVinci robotic system, he says is more delicate, and exact than the human hand.

John's kidney was rushed across the hall to David's operating room. It was so fresh, and so healthy that it started working even before David's surgeon Dr. Miguel Tan could get it fully attached to its new owner.

"It looks perfect, and it looks beautiful in David.  Nice and pink and making lots of urine," Pollinger said.

Out in the waiting room, Edwards' family got the good news.

That's when it starts to really hit home that sometimes the best gifts are right there inside us.


Hembree went home the next day, just over 24 hours after his operation. The next day, he was back at Glen Haven for Sunday services.

David may go home on Tuesday. Tests show his kidney is working beautifully.

If their story has you thinking about becoming a living donor, call your local transplant center and ask them how to get started.

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