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Courageous Hospital Coworkers Donate Kidneys to Save Each Other’s Husbands

[July 10, 2021: Meghan Overdeep]

A chance "how are you holding up?" between two longtime coworkers in Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's IT department ended up saving the lives of their husbands.

Tia Wimbush and Susan Ellis worked at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta for over a decade and were in the same department for five years. A mutual friend had told them they had something in common. In fall of 2019, Susan Ellis and Tia Wimbush discovered that both of their husbands went into renal failure within days of each other. Both men were in desperate need of kidney transplants.

Months after first bonding over the similarities in their experience, Tia and Susan ran into each other in the bathroom, where they started chatting about the donor evaluation process.

"We were washing our hands and catching up," Tia recalled. "I knew Susan was finishing up the donor process, so I asked how it was going."

They confided in each other about their husbands' kidney disease, a condition that affects an estimated 37 million people in the U.S., according to the National Kidney Foundation.


That was when they learned they learned Tia's blood type was a near perfect match for Susan's husband Lance, and that Susan and Tia's husband Rodney had compatible blood types.

It was a lightbulb moment for the wives.

Tia went back to her desk and immediately got the ball rolling on a paired kidney exchange.

Four weeks later, Tia and Susan were confirmed to donate a kidney to each other's husbands, and on March 19, 2021, Tia donated her kidney to Lance and Susan donated her kidney to Rodney.

Rodney and Tia Wimbush with Susan Ellis on the day of their surgeries

"We are lucky because a lot of men and women and children wait years — and I mean seven to nine years, not just one or two," Ellis told CBS News. "And sometimes, their time on the wait list will outlive them."


The transplants were successful, and both men are doing well.

Going through the transplant process together gave their families a unique bond.

"We skipped friendship," Wimbush said. "We bypassed friendship and we are absolutely family now."

Credit: Children's Healthcare of Atlanta

"It's a story of kindness," Susan said. "Had Tia not 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."

For Tia, it's a story of hope.

"What I hope people take away is that they could be someone else's answered prayer. You could be someone else's hope," she said. "All it takes is a conversation, a kind word, checking in on someone to see how they are doing. You don't know how far that can go for one person."


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