Lifesavers: Stories of Organ Donation

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Sisters in Song

Dianne Martin and Patricia "Hooley" Norwood had lived in neighboring towns in South Carolina and sung in the same 180-member Victory Baptist Church choir for two years without ever meeting. Then one Sunday in 2007 Martin, 53, stood at the pulpit and explained to the church's 2,500 congregants that she was sick with the same polycystic kidney disease that had taken her father's life at 39. Faced with 12 hours of dialysis a week and no appropriate donors among family members, she made a tearful yet humorous plea: "If anyone out there has three kidneys, please see me after church."

From her seat in the choir loft, Norwood, 60, was immediately struck with a deep conviction that God wanted her to be Martin's donor. Along with dozens of other church members, Norwood had herself tested for compatibility and discovered she was a closer match than Martin's half sister. "That was the writing on the wall," she says. But doctors discouraged her, saying she was, in her words, "too old and too fat" to donate a kidney. (She had undergone hip replacement surgery in 2003 and the steroids she was prescribed caused her to gain weight.) Undeterred, Norwood lost 50 pounds over the next eight months. "I couldn't stand in a choir praising God and knowing I had spare parts with a woman dying next to me," she says.

When Martin's doctor told her that a match was available from a fellow church member, the pastor had to explain that the donor was the cheerful alto who sang opposite Martin's soprano section. "It was overwhelming," she says. "You don't know how to respond to that kind of gift."

Norwood's kidney-removal surgery was a fairly simple procedure with a 48-hour hospital stay and a speedy recovery. The hardest part of the whole process, she says, has been deflecting the praise heaped on her by Martin and a host of others. "It's embarrassing," says Norwood, who expects to live a long, healthy life with one kidney.

Today both women are thriving and still singing together in the choir. "We're sisters now," says Martin, whose three grown children even send Norwood Mother's Day cards. "We have an unbreakable bond."

Continued on page 4:  A Race for Life

 

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