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Florida woman selflessly donates kidney to husband’s ex-wife two days after wedding

[July 17, 2021: Rebekah Scanlan]

Debby Neal-Strickland Merthe, Jim Merthe and Mylaen Merthe - CREDIT: Ocala Florida kidney donation

Typically, an ex-wife and the new wife don’t get along – but these two women are an exception to the rule.

Selflessly, Debby Neal-Strickland, 56, stepped up for husband James, known as Jim Merthe’s former other half Mylaen Merthe after discovering she was dire need of the vital organ.

Just two days after marrying Jim, her partner of 10 years, Debby checked herself into a local hospital to undergo the risky surgery.

Debby and Jim's wedding in 2021

Mylaen, 59, had battled kidney disease for over 30 years before her condition worsened in recent years and she was admitted to hospital in November.

Despite being divorced more than 10 years, Jim and Mylaen had always gotten along while raising their two adult children.


On her death bed, with her kidneys only functioning at 8 per cent, Mylaen’s family frantically searched for a donor.

Debby and Mylaen in the hospital

Her brother wasn’t a match, so instead, Debby stepped up, knowing Mylaen and Jim’s daughter was pregnant and the whole family were desperate for her to survive.

“I just knew that was what I was supposed to do,” Debby said.

When results showed she was in fact a match, Debby swapped her wedding gown for a hospital gown to undergo the transplant.

“The doctors couldn’t even believe what a close match we were,” she said.


“They thought we were such a close match that it was unbelievable. So I just feel like that was God’s intention – that it was my destiny.”

Debby and Mylaen today

Six months on, Mylaen now she feels like a “totally new human being” and credits Debby with saving her life.

“Debby saved my life, honestly,” Mylaen said. “All I ever wanted was to be a grandma and to have grandchildren and to be there for them. Now I’ve got two and it’s because of her.”

The women are now good friends, exchanging texts every day.

“[We] usually text every single day,” Debby added. “We talk quite a bit. We call ourselves kidney sisters.”


Mylaen said she had “a lot of love” for Debby, saying “she’s a family member”.

Debby’s decision to give her kidney to Mylaen wasn’t the first time she had grappled with the difficulty of organ donation.

Debby’s brother had cystic fibrosis, and for years the family hoped he would find a double lung transplant. He died on the waiting list.

“When somebody needs an organ, if they don’t get it, they’re probably not going to make it. I know it’s something that you do quickly,” Debby said.

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