Neil Emmott was in need of a kidney transplant but could not find a suitable donor. Fortunately, two close friends stepped up and saved not only his life, but seven more.
Neil learned he was suffering from polycystic kidney disease after a routine doctor’s visit in 2001. The disease progresses over time, and there was nothing to do except measure his kidney function on an annual basis and live a healthy lifestyle.
Neil and his wife Lisa, who live in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, kept an eye on his kidney health for 15 years, until his doctor told the couple that his kidney function had deteriorated to the point where he would need a kidney transplant.
Initially, Neil’s brother had stepped forward to donate. He’d always said he would when the time came, but after testing doctors learned that he would not be able to donate to Neil. Lisa was the next potential candidate to donate, but she was also not able to.
“After his brother and I were both denied, I would say panic set up shop in our kitchen, and didn’t leave for a long time,” Lisa told The Epoch Times.
Confiding in Friends
Up to this point, the family had kept their situation private. Now, they were going to have to make Neil’s condition public in order to find a kidney match. In early 2017, they broke the news.
“We had to let go of our privacy, step outside of our comfort zone, tell the world what we needed. And to tell the world that you need an organ is not the easiest thing to do,” Lisa said.
Lisa confided in one of her closest friends, Allison Malouf, about her husband’s condition. Malouf’s husband had donated one of his kidneys eight years before to a family friend, so they knew the process.
Malouf had also offered to donate, but she hadn’t been a match at the time.
“From that time on I always knew going forward that I wanted to donate my kidney. This was something God kind of placed on my heart to do, and something that I desperately kind of longed for,” Malouf told The Epoch Times. “I just had this deep feeling to do it, to help somebody.”
When Lisa told her about Neil’s condition, she immediately offered to donate her own kidney. Lisa had only one word to describe how she felt: “Humbled.”
Lisa had also decided to tell another close friend, Britani Atkinson, about her husband’s condition. One day she drove over to Atkinson’s house, and broke the news to her in her living room.
“[The reason] why I haven’t been returning your calls, why I haven’t been a good friend, it’s because I’m dealing with finding Neil a kidney,” she remembers saying to her.
After talking with her family, and unbeknownst to Lisa, Atkinson began undergoing medical tests to determine if she would be a suitable match.
“Though I didn’t verbalize it, my immediate thought was ‘I can do something about that,'” Atkinson recalled.
A Big Secret
Atkinson and her family decided to keep her decision to undergo testing private so as not to get Lisa and Neil’s hopes up.
“If you’re ever going to have someone do something behind your back, this would be what you want them to do,” Lisa said laughing.
Atkinson was approved as a suitable donor, and she left a note on Lisa’s car to tell her on May 11, 2017. It was the best surprise one could hope for.
“I read the card, which was beautiful, and I literally buckled. I’ve never lost control of my gross motor skills, but I could not stand as I was reading her letter,” Lisa said.
Atkinson and Neil were blood and tissue compatible for a kidney donation. She was first to get approved ahead of Malouf and was a better match. However, Atkinson is quite petite and Neil is a fairly big man—it would be better for Neil to receive a larger kidney.
As a result, Atkinson and Neil entered into the Paired Kidney Exchange program at Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Transplant Center.
The program is designed for a donor and a recipient who are incompatible. Atkinson would donate to an unknown recipient, and an unknown donor would donate to Neil. Four to six weeks later, a match was found for Neil.
On September 27, 2017, Neil underwent a successful kidney transplant. Lisa felt more than a tremendous amount of relief.
“[It was] like I had a new husband,” Lisa said.
Eight Lives Saved
Malouf had entered the program too, and even though Neil had received a kidney she still wanted to donate. She asked if there was a recipient who was in need of a living donor in the exchange program, and there was. Malouf ultimately donated her kidney to a child.
“I was excited. I was excited to have the opportunity to save someone’s life,” Malouf said.
Atkinson and Malouf ended up contributing to two “kidney chains” in which a total of eight recipients received a kidney, including Neil.
Neil and Lisa will never forget the generosity of their friends, who will always share a special bond with them.
“In terms of Britani and Allison, you can’t put it into words … to have your faith in humanity redeemed is quite extraordinary,” Neil said.
To learn more about living kidney donation visit kidneyregistry.org
If you have a story, write to Andrew Thomas at [email protected]