Prior to establishing a special bond, Tia Wimbush and Susan Ellis had been coworkers in the same department at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for 10 years. And though they exchanged pleasantries any time they crossed paths at work, they were unaware they shared similar personal problems and would eventually end up saving each husband’s life.
Wimbush and Ellis’ acquaintance ultimately blossomed into a strong friendship in 2019 after they learned their husbands suffered the same health complications – which was kidney failure – and needed transplants in order to survive, CNN reported.
Things then took a turn for the better following a brief conversation the coworkers had in a bathroom last year with regards to donor procedure. During that conversation, Ellis got to know Wimbush shared the same O negative rare blood type as her husband – thus making Wimbush a possibly compatible donor for Ellis’ spouse. And Ellis’ blood type A, on the other hand, also coincidentally matched that of Wimbush’s ailing husband – which was AB.
“All that was going through my head is, ‘What if we can donate our kidneys to each other’s husbands?’ I could have never imagined it,” Tia told the news outlet, adding that she subsequently reached out to her donor coordinator to investigate if their blood groups were a match for their husbands. It was ultimately confirmed the women were compatible.
Prior to finding out they had matching blood types, Tia and Susan had been trying to find matching kidney donors for their husbands who had been placed on the transplant list. Tia’s husband, Rodney Wimbush, was diagnosed with kidney failure in 2019 after he complained of an illness.
“It was extremely emotional” Tia recalled. “Within an hour of running tests, they started saying things like, ‘Has anyone ever mentioned kidney failure to you?’ And we were like what’s happening? What are you talking about? What does this mean for us?” Rodney was subsequently placed on dialysis.
On the other hand, Susan’s husband Lance Ellis started having kidney complications as far back as 2010. His mother eventually donated her kidney to him during a transplant procedure in 2017. His body, however, started rejecting the donated kidney until he was diagnosed with renal failure again in 2019, CNN reported.
Despite the setbacks, both men would eventually get matching donors thanks to their wives. And though Tia’s blood type also made her a match for her husband Rodney, the couple said they still opted for Tia to donate her kidney to Lance as he was still unable to find a matching donor because of his rare blood type. Both couples successfully underwent transplant surgery in March last year and as arranged, Lance received Tia’s kidney and Rodney received Susan’s.
“It is very rare for two immunologically incompatible pairs to propose their own paired exchange and actually be a match for one another,” transplant nephrologist at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, Christina Klein, 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.”
Following the surgery, the couple told CNN they established a bond beyond friendship. “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.”
Lance added: “The Wimbushes are our family and are the best people we have ever met. We are looking forward to spending time together and making new healthy memories.”
Tia and Susan returned to work in May after recovering and they received a rousing welcome. The ladies also said they hoped their stories would inspire others to donate.