When you’re washing your hands in a public bathroom and realize that you’re not the only one, you can do one of two things. You can either engage in small-talk to break the ice, or you can choose to quietly smile at them in the mirror before getting on with your day. And while you may not think too hard about this choice yourself, it turns out that this decision can have a much bigger impact than you’d think. In Susan and Tia’s case, it changed everything.
Although Susan and Tia worked for the same company, their paths had rarely crossed until they met each other in the bathroom in the fall of 2019. Since then, the two women and their families have been on a whirlwind adventure that never would have happened if they had chosen to just smile in the mirror. They didn’t realize that their conversation in the restroom would actually save the lives of their husbands… but now it has.
Susan and Tia Were Strangers When They Both Learned That Their Husbands Were Going Through the Same Battle
Susan Ellis and Tia Wimbush are like two peas in a pod nowadays. They have so much in common, but they’ve only realized just how much they are alike in recent months. You have the fact that they both hail from Atlanta, Georgia. Then, they both happen to work for the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta in the IT department. Thirdly, their husbands have both battled for their lives after a devastating turn of events.
But when a chance encounter in fall 2019 provided them with a lightbulb moment that would change everything, they began to realize that their husbands could have a second chance at life. After all, both of them had severe kidney failure and they were both progressing to full renal failure. But knowing this fact soon transformed them from co-workers to kidney sisters. So, how did they get there?
When Susan Ellis Met Her Future Husband Lance, She Knew It Wouldn’t Be an Ordinary Relationship
Susan Ellis is someone who always loves to look on the bright side of life. She’s driven, she’s motivated, and she strives to stay as happy as possible. However, life has dealt her a few difficult cards over the years – even when she seemed happier than ever. And this was the case when the IT worker and graphic designer met her future husband, Lance.
Although meeting Lance has changed Susan’s life for the better, she knew that their relationship wouldn’t be easy. She knew it wouldn’t be a normal relationship, and she knew it would take its toll on her. That’s because Lance would not only have to slot into Susan’s family unit with her two daughters from a previous relationship but because Susan would also have to cope with Lance’s very serious health concerns.
Susan Knew That Lance Was Ill When They Started Dating, but She Could Have Never Imagined How Ill He Would Really Get
When Lance and Susan first started dating, Lance made sure that Susan knew everything about him. This included the fact that, in 2017, Lance was told that he had kidney failure. This came as a tough blow to the otherwise healthy young man, and while he had to rely on dialysis to keep him alive, he eventually found a transplant match in the form of his mother.
Of course, Lance’s mom would have given anything to her son to keep him alive – and the transplant seemed to work, for a while. But after two years, Lance began to feel unwell again, and he could tell that his body was starting to reject his mom’s kidney. He didn’t know what to do, and neither did Susan, who had just become his fiancé,
As His First Kidney Transplant Started to Fail, Susan and Lance Knew That His Health Was in Serious Jeopardy
Just as Lance had started to enjoy his new kidney, his new life, and his new family, he battled with the thought that the twinges of pain he was feeling would tear him away from them. He had gone through the process of dialysis before and knew how intense and time-consuming it was, so he tried to ignore what was really going on.
Lance was in denial during this time, but that one morning he just couldn’t ignore the pain any longer. He noted that “One morning before work, my body cramped up, like, it was just one huge cramp.” He knew he had to see his specialist at the hospital, and he was heartbroken when they told him that his kidneys had gone and the transplant had completely failed.
They Didn’t Know Whether Lance Would Survive This Second Round of Kidney Failure, so They Pushed Forward Their Wedding
When Susan and Lance learned that his kidneys had failed once again, they knew that they had to make the most of the time they had together. After all, they didn’t know how much longer he would be able to survive. So they chose to push forward their wedding and got married earlier than expected. It was a happy and wholesome day, but it was also very short-lived.
The newlyweds didn’t go on honeymoon but instead had to make their way to the hospital the day after they said “I do” so that Lance could continue with his dialysis treatment. Susan noted that “It was devastating to watch my husband try to be the strongest that he could for his new wife and his new family.” But what she didn’t realize was that her co-worker was going through an almost identical ordeal.
Although Susan Didn’t Know It at the Time, Tia’s Husband Had Also Just Been Diagnosed With Kidney Failure
Throughout her career, Susan tried to keep her personal life away from her professional life. And it seems as though her co-worker, Tia Wimbush, was of the same opinion. Neither of them knew that they were both going through the exact same struggles with their husbands, as just like Lance, Tia’s husband Rodney had also been diagnosed with kidney failure.
This news came as a huge blow to Tia and her husband, as they had been through so much together and had a seemingly perfect life. They were college sweethearts and had just celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary when they were told the news, and they just didn’t know how to approach the subject with their two teenage sons. Mostly because this news came completely out of the blue.
Rodney Thought He Was Fit and Healthy, but He Realized Something Was Wrong When He Started to Feel Strange
Tia’s husband Rodney is a high school teacher and has always been relatively fit and healthy for his age. Before his diagnosis, he was active and always keeping himself busy, and he had never been concerned about his health or wellbeing. However, this all changed when he began to feel strange and unwell.
At Tia’s request, Rodney booked an appointment to see a local nurse. He wondered whether he had the flu or had just picked up a bug at school – but the reality was much worse. When the nurse ran some tests and realized what was wrong, she knew she couldn’t send him home. He had to be taken to the emergency room; immediately.
After Being Rushed to the Emergency Room, Rodney Learned That His Blood Pressure Was Way Too High
Rodney and Tia were understandably concerned when they made their way to the emergency room, and they didn’t know what was going on. And when Rodney finally got the chance to speak to a doctor, he learned that many of his test results had come back abnormal. Most worryingly, his blood pressure was way too high.
Tia has since noted that her husband’s “blood pressure was at stroke-level” and it was clear to see why the medical team was concerned. They wanted to run a few more tests to find out what was causing his blood pressure to spike, and that’s when Rodney was told that he had end-stage kidney failure.
Rodney Wasn’t Allowed Home Until He Had Completed His First Session of Dialysis, but He Desperately Needed a Transplant
When the doctors told Rodney that he had kidney failure, they also told him that he wouldn’t be allowed home. He needed an emergency session of dialysis, and he quickly realized that this process would be a part of his diagnosis. From that moment on he knew he would have to introduce dialysis into his everyday life whether he liked it or not.
And while this was a lot for Rodney and the whole family to deal with, they had no other choice. If Rodney wanted to survive to watch his sons graduate from high school, he would need to continue with the dialysis for as long as possible. Or until he was eligible for a successful kidney transplant.
Both Rodney and Lance Had to Be Put On the Transplant List as Their Wives Weren’t a Match for Them
In many cases, health professionals look to the families of those with kidney failure to see if they are an eligible match for them – just as Lance had originally received a kidney from his mom. However, after undergoing blood tests both Susan and Tia learned that they were not a match for their husbands.
Because of this, both Rodney and Lance were added to the kidney transplant list in 2020. But they had little hope in the process, as they were told that most people often have to wait around seven to nine years before they can go ahead with the transplant. And while it was a thought none of them wanted to think, they didn’t even know if Rodney or Lance would survive that long.
Although Lance Did Qualify for a Transplant, the Chain Fell Through Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic
Susan and Tia had no idea that both of their husbands were going through the same struggles, but they both tried to keep as optimistic as possible when it came to Rodney and Lance. They continued with the regular dialysis appointments and hoped that a transplant would come along soon. And for Lance, it did.
But despite the fact that Lance qualified for a kidney transplant chain, the whole thing fell through when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Not only were transplant operations canceled, but when Susan herself tested positive for the virus the couple knew that the chances of it happening were over. Within just a few weeks, they were back to square one.
Tia and Susan Weren’t Friends at Work, but Their Manager Decided to Introduce Them
Although both Tia and Susan worked in the IT department for the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, they were just two of hundreds of employees that worked in the building. While they had passed each other in the corridor and their office cubicles were close by, they had not become friends. However, their manager knew that both of them were struggling in the same way.
Because of this, their manager chose to speak to Susan about her personal life, and she noted that Tia was going through the exact same situation. Their manager hoped that by introducing them she would be able to show both of them that they weren’t alone. But she had no idea that this decision would change both of their lives forever.
When Susan and Tia First Spoke, They Originally Avoided Talking About Their Personal Lives
When Susan learned that Tia was going through a similar scenario in terms of her personal life, she hoped that the two women would become friends and be able to share their experiences. However, she didn’t want to bombard Tia with deep and intense questions about her husband straight off the bat, so they kept things casual.
In fact, neither Susan nor Tia really spoke about their husbands’ kidney failure, but instead kept their conversations light and breezy to first forge a connection as friends. It wasn’t until they both just happened to go to the bathroom at the same time a few months later that they finally approached the subject that kept them both up at night.
The Two Women Finally Spoke About Their Husbands in the Bathroom When They Realized Something Extraordinary
After their initial meeting, Susan and Tia struck up a lighthearted friendship where they passed each other in the hall and said hello. But they took this friendship to a whole new level when they just happened to meet each other in the bathroom. While they were washing their hands, the women decided to finally talk about their husbands and the transplant process.
Tia has noted that “She mentioned again that she and her husband were not a match. I asked her, ‘Well, what was his blood type?’ And, she said, ‘O-negative.'” When Tia then replied with her husband’s blood type, she knew that there was a reason they were meeting in that bathroom – and a lightbulb went off in her head.
While Susan and Tia Were Not a Match for Their Own Husbands, They Were a Match for Each Other’s Husbands
After just a short conversation, the two co-workers learned that Tia was O-negative, the same blood type as Susan’s husband Lance. And as if that wasn’t enough, Susan’s blood type was A – which just so happened to be the same blood type as Tia’s husband Rodney!
Neither of them could believe what was happening, and they just stared at each other in the bathroom for a while as they processed the information in front of them. Tia noted that “I was just stopped in my tracks. I thought, what if we could match for each other?” It was a long shot, but could it work?
The Women Hoped They Would Be Able to Exchange Kidneys Between Them, but They Had to Make Sure This Was Possible
In their eyes, the situation was perfect. Both Rodney and Lance needed kidney transplants right away, and they couldn’t wait the potential seven to nine years for the transplants on the waiting list. And thankfully, Susan and Tia were ready and raring to anything they could to save their husbands – even if that meant giving their kidneys to each other’s husbands.
And while the process of exchanging kidneys between them sounded like a great idea, they knew that it wouldn’t be quite simple. They had to go down proper routes to ensure it would be possible, and they had to check that it was allowed. So, Tia asked her donor coordinator whether it would be a possibility. And amazingly, they said yes!
After the Operations Were Approved, the Two Families Just Had a Few Short Months to Wait for the Exchange
After the donor coordinator approved this unbelievable turn of events, the balls were set in motion and preparations could be made to ensure the transplants went ahead successfully. However, this wasn’t something that could be planned overnight, and the couples had to wait a few months before they could go under the knife.
And while this meant that both Rodney and Lance had to continue with dialysis for a few months, both families could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. They knew that change was on the horizon and they knew that new possibilities were finally in their futures. It was an agonizing but incredibly exciting wait.
Seven Months After Their Conversation in the Bathroom, Both Lance and Rodney Received New Kidneys
Thankfully, Lance and Rodney only had to wait seven months before they could finally make their way to the hospital for their new kidneys. The day they had waited for was finally here, and Tia and Susan were over the moon to not only be able to help their own husbands, but also each other’s husbands.
The women knew they were doing the right thing, but they were also aware of what they had signed up to do. Tia confessed that “When you think about it what we were doing, it’s actually kind of scary. It’s a big deal! But, we just had peace in that moment, that this is what we were supposed to do.”
The Women Were Over the Moon to Learn That Both of Their Kidneys Had Taken Well During the Operations
As both women went under the knife to get their kidneys removed, they were nervous. But they knew it was the right thing to do. And when Susan woke up, she was aware that her own husband hadn’t gone down to surgery just yet, but that Rodney had been under at the same time as her. So, her first question was “How’s Rodney?”
Amazingly, Susan’s kidney had been taken well by Rodney’s body, and it seemed as though they really were the perfect match. And as the hours went by, they also learned that the same had been the case for Tia and Lance. Tia’s kidney was the perfect match for Lance, and they really had saved each other’s husbands.
After the Successful Transplant, Lance Realized Just How Ill He Had Really Been
Amazingly, both Lance and Rodney felt an instant difference when they woke up from their successful transplants. While they were slightly groggy from the anesthetic and the general pain of the procedure, they could instantly feel the fact that the transplants had been a success.
Even Lance, who had already gone through the transplant process once, was surprised at how good he felt when he woke up. He confessed that “I mean, as soon as you wake up from surgery, it’s like hitting a light switch. You feel amazing. You’re ready to go for a run.” But the two men weren’t the only ones who felt amazing after the surgery.
It Felt Surreal For Tia and Susan to Go Back to the Normality of Work, but They Had No Idea What Was in Store for Them
Going through the whole kidney transplant process with their husbands and newfound friends was a surreal experience for both Tia and Susan, and for a while, they were in the midst of recuperating physically and also mentally. However, they had to go back to work soon after the operations, and it was a strange time for both of them.
It felt anticlimactic for the women to go back to the normality of work after such an incredible experience, but both of them were also looking forward to what the future would hold for both of their families now their husbands had a new lease of life. But neither Susan nor Tia realized what would be waiting for them at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta when they arrived back to work.
Their Colleagues at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Wanted to Give the Women Credit for What They Had Done
The Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta are used to hearing inspiring stories, but they never get bored of them. They deal with incredible children suffering life-altering illnesses every single day, and they’re constantly in awe of the strength of the people and youngsters they encounter. And this didn’t change when Tia and Susan’s colleagues heard what they did for each other’s husbands.
In fact, the workers were amazed by their story and how similar their circumstances had been. They were inspired by the bravery of the two women and their husbands, and so they wanted to show their appreciation when Tia and Susan made their way back to work. So, they organized something very special.
The Women Were Welcomed “Home” to Their Jobs and Were Given Red Carpet Treatment
Although Tia and Susan worked in the IT department, the whole of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta wanted to show their appreciation for the women. After all, most people don’t realize how many people around the world need transplants – and most people don’t realize that they could be a match for someone in need.
Because of this, the center wanted to raise awareness not only for the women – but also for their actions. They wanted to welcome Tia and Susan “home” with a red carpet, a hero’s salute, and full-on appreciation for what Tia and Susan had chosen to do for their husbands. Neither of them was expecting it, and they were overwhelmed by the reaction.
The Workers Celebrated the Bravery of Tia and Susan, but They Weren’t the Only Ones Who Made an Appearance
As Tia and Susan walked from their cars in the parking lot to their offices, they were greeted by walls of workers either side of the corridors. There was cheering, they waved flags, and they clapped the women as they made their way through the crowds. It was a truly magical experience.
But the workers weren’t the only ones who made an appearance at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Although Lance couldn’t make it, Rodney wanted to surprise both his wife and Susan by turning up and giving them the biggest round of applause of them all. As soon as Susan saw him, she just had to give him a huge hug.
Seeing Rodney Happy and Healthy Was Overwhelming For Susan, and Even Rodney Was Choked Up
Although Rodney, Tia, Lance, and Susan all stayed in touch after their successful transplants, being back at work and seeing Rodney happy and healthy in front of her was one of the most emotional moments of Susan’s life. It was an incredible reunion that saw them hugging and sobbing. But it wasn’t just Susan who got choked up.
Rodney was also overcome with emotion during the celebration at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta building. And while he was happy that he felt healthier than he had in a long time, he confessed that “I worry more about Lance than I do myself” and that “I’ll always be grateful to Susan for doing what she did.”
Tia Has Been Able to See Real Changes in Rodney Since Susan Gave Him Her Kidney
During this emotional reunion, Tia was also able to see her husband in a whole different light. It had been hard for her to see her strong partner of 19 years fall ill and struggle with his kidney failure, and at one point she had wondered whether she was going to lose him forever. However, the transplant gave him a new lease of life that was obvious to see.
Tia has noted that “This is like the happiest I have ever seen him, because he’s got this second chance at life. And, this chance to be fully present for me and my boys, and it just means the world to him.” And while Rodney can enjoy the smaller things in life, he’s also been able to experience the larger moments that he may have missed without the kidney transplant.
Rodney Has Since Been Able to Go Back to Work and Celebrate Big Events With His Family
Aside from his family, one of the things that made Rodney happier than anything was his job as a school teacher. And while he had to take some time out during his diagnosis to attend dialysis treatment and to cope with his health concerns, he’s since been able to return to work. And in doing so, he was able to merge his two loves together.
In fact, Rodney was able to stand up on stage to hand his son his diploma during his graduation, and it was one of the proudest moments of his life. And Tia felt the same. She confessed that “For me to witness that was greater than any lottery I could have one.”
Tia Hopes That Their Story Will Help to Start a Conversation About Donors and Transplants
The story surrounding Tia, Rodney, Lance, and Susan has built up traction around the globe, and their actions have resonated with others who have their own stories of transplant success. However, Tia wants to use this platform to start a real conversation about the transplant process, and how so many people sadly pass away before being given a second chance.
Tia hopes that people will consider the fact that they could be the difference between someone’s life and their death – even if they don’t personally know that person. She has seen firsthand how in-demand donors are, and how people’s lives really do depend on the generosity of others. In her eyes, all it takes is a wider conversation.
Tia and Susan Now Have a Bond for Life and Consider Each Other Their “Kidney Sister”
Susan has also been using this opportunity to speak more about Lance’s diagnosis and how they managed to battle through the transplant process, and it’s fair to say that their whole experience has bonded them beyond belief. They were once relative strangers who just happened to work in the same department, but now they’re so much more.
In fact, these two women now consider themselves to be “Kidney sisters.” And Susan has noted that “It’s a story of kindness. Had Tia now had that basic conversation in the restroom while we were washing our hands, just checking in with each other, perhaps this would not have evolved into the magnitude that it has.” Yes, it’s a truly inspiring story!