When Debbie Felder met her husband Shawn in 1991, neither was thinking about each other’s kidneys. But when Shawn’s kidney disease worsened and he went on dialysis in 2012, Debbie decided to get tested to see if she would be a donor candidate. Eighteen vials of blood later and, against all odds, she learned that she was a perfect match.
Her husband was adamant, “You’re not risking your life for mine.”
Shawn and Debbie Felder. Debbie, who joined Lewis in 2009, is a Support Coordinator on the Contract Management Support team.
For five years, Shawn, who is now 51 years old, spent 4.5 hours in dialysis, three days a week. It took years of convincing him, and Debbie saving up enough sick time to avoid going on disability, for Shawn to relent. In the spring of 2017, Debbie began an exhaustive litany of further testing to ensure she was healthy enough to donate. After CT scans, chest x-rays, stress tests and testing for cancer, hepatitis, and so on, she received a clean bill of health.
This past fall, Debbie and Shawn underwent the kidney transplant process that would change their lives.
Because Debbie was donating her kidney, her surgery was first. As parents, children and siblings waited anxiously in the waiting room, what was supposed to be a four hour surgery lasted for six due to a broken piece of equipment in the operating room. The doctors prepped both for their surgeries and, just before removing her kidney, paused to ensure her husband was okay before there was no turning back. Then they took her kidney, brought it to his room and attached it to his body. The kidney started working immediately without any prompting.
When Debbie awoke from recovery, she was shocked at the amount of pain she felt. She had to use a walker to steady herself but headed directly to her husband’s room. They were both immensely relieved to know that the other was okay.
Days later, after trying to get all of the patients in her unit to form a conga line, the doctors agreed to let Debbie out of the hospital early. She left after two days and Shawn followed two days later.
All in all, Debbie was out from work for just over six weeks. While she’s extremely tired (with her remaining kidney working overtime) and expected to be in pain for the next six months, she’s doing exceptionally well.
As Debbie says, she was so happy to come back to work and have her life back to normal, “even if they keep throwing me out at 4:00 p.m. because they’re worried about me.” She’s grateful for the support that she received, how often everyone checked in on her and how they pitched in to cover her work. “I feel very loved.”
Shawn is doing well, too. He looks great, his color is returning and his pain is lessening. Importantly, his numbers look the same as anyone’s with a healthy kidney. He’ll have to take his anti-rejection medicine for the rest of his life but he’s getting acclimated to life without dialysis.
Together they’re planning their first vacation in years and looking forward to her son’s wedding in November—something they couldn’t have attended easily before. And knowing that her kidney is right next to her when she gets home at night, Debbie jokes, “Now when I want to watch chick flicks with Shawn, I say, ‘Hey, my kidney wants to watch this.’ But that line is not working.”
When you ask Debbie about the life-giving gift that she gave to her husband, she completely downplays her response, “Yeah, it was kind of cool that I could do that.” Yes, it was! We’re proud to know you.