Tia Wimbush and Susan Ellis both work at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta — and both of their husbands were in dire need of a new kidney.
For Tia and Susan, it was generally just smiles and hellos when they passed by one another.
But a five-minute bathroom conversation last September changed everything.
“We crossed paths in the restroom and we were washing our hands and we started having a conversation about where my husband and I were in the transplant evaluation process,” Tia recalled. “But with that we started talking about blood types.”
They soon discovered Susan was compatible with Tia’s husband, Rodney, and Tia was compatible with Susan’s husband, Lance.
“It was like a light bulb moment went off in my head,” Tia said. “What if we can donate our kidneys to each other’s husbands?”
They both agreed. Tia went back to her desk and set everything up with her donor coordinator.
Seven months later, Tia, Rodney, Susan and Lance underwent a paired kidney exchange transplant. All four surgeries went smoothly — and Lance’s and Rodney’s bodies accepted their new kidneys.
“It is very rare for two immunologically incompatible pairs to propose their own paired exchange and actually be a match for one another,” Christina Klein, a transplant nephrologist at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, said in a statement. “I have been a transplant nephrologist since 2008 working in active living donation and paired kidney exchange programs, and I have personally never seen this happen before.”
Since the kidney exchange, the couples have grown closer.
“It’s beyond friendship. They really are family,” Tia said. “We all took a leap of faith in doing this and now we are forever connected, always rooting each other on in both the recovery process and in this second chance of life.”