Love Life, Live Life, Give Life 1

You have never really lived until you have done something 
for someone who can never repay you.

This is a true love story three times over. Two happy endings and another one in the works…hopefully.

Chad and Rick Smith are identical twins and there was always a plan. When his kidneys gave out, Chad’s brother Rick would give him a kidney and the problem would be solved. But sometimes, things don’t go according to plan. Chad, who was diagnosed with IgA Nephropathy in 2009 now needs a kidney and in the past few months discovered that Rick (who will eventually develop the same disease) cannot donate. Now Chad has to wait on the transplant list or hope to find a living donor brave and generous enough to give him a kidney and a second chance at health and life.

Vicki Hortin knows all about second chances. On May 2, 2014, Hortin was reborn when she received the best gift of her life, a new kidney from a friend. Hortin’s health had declined rapidly and two months before the transplant she received scary news.

“All of a sudden doctors said I had to have both kidneys taken out and had to go on dialysis. Dialysis was just very scary, but keeping the kidneys in caused lots of infections and crowding. I was not sure what to do because I didn’t have a new kidney.”

After prayerful consideration, Hortin took a leap of faith and had the kidneys removed before she had a guaranteed kidney transplant. The diseased kidneys weighed a staggering 17 pounds. Then she started dialysis 5 hours a day, three times per week. It was very rough and a frightening time for her.

But a new kidney was in the works due to the incredible generosity of Corinne Harryman. Harryman and Hortin had met 6 years before at a Relief Society activity at an LDS church when they sat together. Hortin and her family had just moved in two months before from Riverton on a whim, or so it seemed. As the two began talking, Hortin told Harryman that one day she would need a kidney. According to Vicki, she remembers Corinne Harryman enthusiastically telling her that she would give her a kidney.

“I don’t remember telling her that,” Harryman reveals. But she probably did. This is because many years before, Corinne had every intention of donating her kidney to save her father’s life.

“I was praying and asking for my dad to live. Let him live! I got my off knees and had the impression to donate. It was a clear answer.”

She just knew she was the match. Harryman went through the tests and got a phone call in the midst of it telling her she had been rejected and she was incredulous. “I was not compatible with his transplanted pancreas he had received a few years before and I was ticked. My dad was dying and I couldn’t save him. I had a crystal clear heavenly answer, but then I began to doubt everything.”

She prayed again, and knew she would donate, just not yet. Another family member did end up donating to save her father and prolong his life for many more years, but it was not until Corinne was perusing Facebook in August 2013 and saw a transplant acceptance letter for Vicki Hortin that she recognized the answer to her prayer. Immediately, Harryman got an overwhelming feeling that this was it. She didn’t tell anyone at first and initiated the testing. The journey was quite long to verify that they were compatible in every way. Miraculously, every milestone was passed and the transplant center approved Corinne’s kidney. Vicky Hortin had her miracle, a live kidney from her heaven-sent friend.

With an incredible amount of courage fueled by love, Corinne Harryman went into the operating room side by side with Vicki Hortin and gave her the gift of life. The results were immediate for Hortin. Her recovery was astounding and as soon as she woke up from surgery she felt whole again. She hadn’t felt that good for 10 years. According to Harryman, “The transplant was brutal and wonderful at the same time, equivalent to giving birth.” Two weeks later, the two friends went for a walk together.

Harryman and Hortin were strangers who became friends, but for Lisa Wheat kidney donation was strictly a family affair.  Wheat, who lives a few doors down from Harryman, is another giver of life. In December 2014, Lisa Wheat and her niece Samantha Ruggles entered the University of Utah Transplant Center ready for surgery. Ruggles, a 22 year-old BYU graduate had learned only 6 months prior that she was in kidney failure and needed a transplant. It was shocking news because she always felt okay and was never really sick like Hortin. It was hard to comprehend the gravity of the situation, but it was life-threatening.

When the family found out, several people requested the packet in order to be tested. At first, Lisa did not think she would qualify because of their age differential and the fact that she is A(-) and Samantha is A(+). But she soon learned that neither fact disqualifies a donor and so she started the testing process. There are tons of blood tests, psychological evaluations, a mammogram, CAT scan, and interviews with loved ones. The transplant center does not rush through the testing. It is exceptionally thorough. Then there are the doubts and fears that can creep in to any normal person about to give away a vital organ. Lisa was no exception.

“I got scared to death when I was cleared by the transplant center and it was solely my decision.” Wheat researched inspiring donation stories online, she went to church, she met with her bishop and also received a blessing. The fears subsided and she felt peace. Then at a family dinner Lisa gave Samantha the good news. She was giving her a kidney.

The surgery took 4 to 5 hours and when Lisa awoke she was extremely happy. “I am alive! I did it!” Lisa attests, “I would do it all over again if I could. I have no regrets, not even the scar.” The scar is actually quite tiny and is just beneath the belly button. “It was a rewarding experience, although it was never on my bucket list. It always feels good when you serve or sacrifice.”

These are two perfect love stories with perfect endings, where hearts and kidneys are forever knit together. The Smith’s are also hoping for a perfect love story this Valentine’s season, as are 508 other Utahn’s who are currently on the transplant registration list. When someone donates a kidney, that selfless act of love can never be repaid. Both donor and recipient step into the unknown, but it is a hopeful place fueled by prayers and faith. If you have contemplated kidney donation, you can visit YesUtah.org for more information.