Tia Wimbush and Susan Ellis worked at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for over a decade and were in the same department for five years. A mutual friend had told them they had something in common — Wimbush’s husband, Rodney, and Ellis’ husband, Lance, were experiencing kidney failure. After working from home during the start of the pandemic, the two returned to the office part time in September. One day, their schedules overlapped and they ran into each other in the bathroom. It proved to be a life-changing moment.
“We were already helping each other out, just being comforters and supporters,” Ellis said. “We bounced ideas off of each other and just really listened.” When the two women bumped into each other in October 2020 they caught up on each other’s situations and soon realized they could do more than listen. “We were going through the transplant process. Susan and her husband, he was already on the list, she had already gone through the process of getting tested and I had just started. And she had told me in the bathroom that afternoon that she and her husband were not a match,”
The two started talking about what blood type each of their husbands had — and realized that they could both be a potential match for each other’s husbands. Wimbush thought she could also be a donor for her husband, but helping her friends felt right. “We really felt strongly about trying to do this as a partner match. We were all here at this moment, at the exact same time, in the same place, going through the exact same thing. What were the chances that we weren’t meant to help one another” Wimbush said.
By the end of October both women found out they were donor matches for each other’s husbands. After some setbacks due to the pandemic and Lance’s health, the four were able to undergo transplant surgeries on March 19, 2021 — all on the same day. The friends have already seen changes in their husbands. “It’s hard to say this but I’m not sure Lance would have made it another year. He was slowly deteriorating, had enormous co-morbidities that were going along with his kidney disease and the dialysis. For us, it was the miracle of a kidney transplant that our husbands so desperately needed. But that’s how it ended. It didn’t start with that in mind, it just started with two working moms and faith followers that needed some camaraderie and compassion and some support for each other. It was just really a story of kindness” Ellis said.
Both women know they are lucky because many people on the donor list wait 7-9 years for a viable match and sometimes their time on the waitlist outlives them. Wimbush and Ellis said they hope sharing their story inspires others to open up — because you never know who you’ll match up with. Going through the transplant process together gave their families a unique bond. “We bypassed friendship and we are absolutely family now” Wimbush said.