A Special Kind of
Bond in Cleveland
by Camerin Courtney
Toni Whatley could never have guessed a casual acquaintance in her
church would be the answer to her prayers for healing from kidney disease.
Or that those prayers would also yield one of the best friends she?s
ever had. But isn?t that just like God, who delights in exceeding our
expectations (Ephesians 3:20).
Twenty-eight years ago, when Toni was a
20-year-old newlywed, she was diagnosed with kidney disease. For many
years she was able to manage the illness with a modified diet. But with
time and two pregnancies, her kidneys became weaker and finally failed
seven years ago.
Dialysis three times a week in a Cleveland
dialysis center provided a temporary fix?but at three and a half hours
and a night of debilitating exhaustion per session, it consumed Toni?s
time and severely restricted her activities.
But without dialysis, a process that cleans
toxins from the blood?a vital function healthy kidneys provide?Toni
would have died. So while she waited to receive a new kidney through organ
donation, she endured five years of dialysis. Though the statistics on
organ donation weren?t terribly promising?each year an average of
36,000 people are placed on the waiting list for a new kidney, with only
about 8,600 transplants performed?Toni kept waiting, hoping, and praying
for a miracle.
Diana Harrill, 48, a self-described
"cautious person," was surprised the first time she heard God
ask if she?d be willing to be part of his solution for Toni.
Diana had been praying for Toni as part of their
church?s 40-day fast and focus on prayer. She felt a kinship to this
fellow mom of teens who had the added burden of medical problems. And
while she didn?t know what part of the solution God wanted her to be,
Diana obediently said yes and continued her prayers for Toni.
After Diana heard God speak to her several more
times, the question changed. "On the way to work one morning I felt
God ask me, Would you be willing to donate a kidney to Toni?" says
Diana, a sense of incredulity still in her voice.
"I put the thought out of my mind. But I
felt God ask me this three more times," says Diana. "Finally I
asked ?God, is that really you??"
Diana didn?t tell anyone about these startling
conversations with God. "I wanted to figure out on my own if this was
God or just some crazy idea."
True to her cautious, logical nature, Diana
researched kidney transplants. She discovered that almost all people are
born with two kidneys and that healthy people only need one. She also
learned that with compatible blood types, kidney transplants have a high
Armed with this information and continued
prompting from God. Diana approached her husband, Ivan. When she explained
the unconventional idea, he questioned whether or not she was serious. Her
response?"Honey, I couldn?t be more serious"?caused great
"It hasn?t been an easy process for him?or
for our children either," says Diana. "But Ivan?s never said
no or that I was crazy."
Together Diana and Ivan prayed for God?s
leading. And Toni continued dialysis?oblivious to the incredible
conversations and prayers taking place on her behalf.
Diana finally approached Toni one morning in
Sunday school: "I?ve been thinking about donating a kidney to you.
Is there someone, perhaps your doctor, I can call to get information about
this?"Toni was floored. "You could?ve knocked me over with a
feather," she says with a smile.
Not wanting to pressure Toni or put her on the
spot, Diana told her she could think about it and call her with the
information. Diana figured that after the initial shock wore off, she?d
hear from Toni that evening. But two weeks later, Diana still hadn?t
heard from Toni.
So she went back to her fellow church choir
member and restarted her interest. A week later, Toni handed Diana a piece
of paper in Sunday school with her doctor?s phone number on it. While
Toni?s hesitancy was confusing at first, it was definitely
understandable. Her mother and sister had been ruled out as potential
kidney donors because of medical conditions. And four times she?d been
contacted about cadaver kidneys, all of which for one reason or another
had been given to someone else on the waiting list. Toni was still
hopeful, but a bit guarded.
Diana?s call to Toni?s doctor started months
of tests. First was the crucial test to see if their blood types matched.
The results were positive.
The doctor then sat Diana and Ivan down and
explained the transplant procedure. It was major surgery, he warned,
involving significant pain and weeks of recovery. If Diana did go through
with the transplant, she would have only one kidney left. If her one
remaining kidney was ever injured, she could be placed on dialysis
herself. And even if the surgeries were successful, Toni?s body could
still reject the new kidney within days, weeks, or years. The doctor went
so far as to mention the possibility of death for both women?a risk
involved with most major surgeries.
Diana was undaunted. "Under normal
circumstances, this would have scared me. But instead I just thought,
Yeah, this is doable," she says. "That was definitely God?s
peace." Ivan was beginning to warm to the idea, but their children?especially
their son, Matthew?were still wary.
Next came psychological testing. Diana was the
most concerned about this exam, fearing the psychologist would think her
crazy for hearing God?s voice and taking on such a risk for a casual
acquaintance. But at the end of the interview, he deemed her an excellent
candidate. "I quietly said thanks, but inside I was going, ?Yes!?"
says Diana with a sparkle in her eye.
Tests on Toni?s immune system and Diane?s
kidneys came back positive. All systems were go until Diana?s blood
pressure spiked. This put Diana?s healthy kidneys in danger and made the
prospect of major surgery too risky. The process was stalled?so Diana
"I realized I?d taken responsibility on
myself for Toni?whether or not she?d be disappointed, whether or not
she?d receive my kidney," Diana explains. "I should have left
it in God?s hands. When I gave the responsibility back to God, my blood
pressure came down almost immediately."
By now Diana?s husband, Ivan, was completely
behind her. Their teenage daughter, Sharon, was proud of what her mom was
doing for Toni. Matthew, however, still didn?t want his mom to take such
a risk. When Diana sat him down and compared what she was doing to the
risks he takes as a firefighter and to the fear she feels each time he
goes to work, he began to soften. "He understood for the first time
why I was doing this and why I wanted his support," says Diana.
"He didn?t like it, but he understood."
The church they attended was excited about what
God was doing in the lives of two of its members. And nearly a year after
the church fast when God first spoke to Diana about giving her kidney to
Toni, the surgeries were scheduled.
When Toni and Diana arrived at the hospital at 6
A.M. the day of the surgery?May 5, 1998?they were surprised by the
dozens of family and friends who?d gathered to wish them well and pray.
"Words can?t express how much their
support meant to us. It was my first realization of how much I need other
people," says Diana. "It?s easier for me to give than to
receive. Now I see what a blessing being on the receiving end can
At 7:30 A.M., after a group prayer, doctors moved
the women into side-by-side operating rooms. Diana?s kidney was removed
while Toni?s body was prepared to receive the new, healthy organ. At
9:15 A.M. the kidney was carried next door and placed in Toni?s abdomen,
then connected to her blood supply and bladder. A little over three hours
into the surgery, the kidney was fully functioning in Toni?s body.
When doctors announced the surgeries were a
success and that both women were doing fine, cheers and praises burst
forth in the waiting room.
Diana recovered quickly and was sent home within
a couple days. Doctors watched Toni closely for signs of her body
rejecting Diana?s kidney. When all initial signs were good, they sent
her home 3 days after the surgery with an arsenal of 46 anti-rejection
pills to take daily. She?ll take daily medication and have regular
check-ups the rest of her life, but this is hardly an inconvenience for a
woman now free of dialysis.
Two years later, Diana and Toni are healthy,
happy?and the dearest of friends.
"My life is pretty much as close to normal
as possible," says Toni. "Diana and I, along with our husbands,
are planning a weekend getaway to celebrate the second anniversary of the
surgeries, and we don?t have to take into consideration where I?ll
receive dialysis treatments. What a blessing!"
Probably one of the biggest, and most surprising,
blessings of this whole process was that Toni?s husband, Tom, committed
his life to Jesus. "To me, that?s been the best gift of all,"
There have been other surprise blessings: a
Dateline show featuring their story, in which both women were permitted to
share their belief in God, the chance to share their faith with the Jewish
woman who?s the hospital media liaison, and the valuable life lessons
Diana and Toni have learned along the way.
"I?ve learned how important a community of
Christians really is," says Diana, "I had a tendency before to
be a loner in my spiritual life. I never really considered bringing my
needs to the church and allowing them to be there for me. But through Toni?s
example, I now see that when we?re open and vulnerable, we can be there
for each other. That?s the way God wants the church to be."
Diana?s also learned to value her own role in a
community of Christians. "I used to think I was the type of person
God could never use," she says. "But God?s shown me he wants
to use all of us, we?re the ones who prevent him."
Toni?who calls Diana "My Gift"?is
so grateful Diana allowed God to use her, and that a beautiful friendship
has blossomed in the process. "We?ve been able to talk about very
personal things because of all we?ve been through together," says
Toni. "Many times God?s given Diana the words of wisdom I?ve
needed to hear to keep me going. When I?m talking with her, I can just
blurt out what?s going on. I don?t have to dress it up or worry what
she?ll think of me. She?s the kind of friend who can sort through all
the garbage and love me just the same."
"This isn?t how I would have guessed God
would answer my prayers for healing," says Toni. "But he knows
exactly what he?s doing. And he?s a maximizing God. He went the route
that would get the maximum results?my new kidney, my friendship with
Diana, others who?ve been encouraged and exposed to God?s truth and
love. God is just amazing. We?ve experienced that firsthand."
Reprinted by permission, Today?s Christian Woman.