Susan Isaacs has no Christmas wish list. Maybe an end to COVID, but everyone wants that. She was already given the perfect gift. More than anything she imagined. It was not wrapped in Christmas paper or topped with a bow, but it was perfect, humbling and one of a kind.
On Nov. 11, she got a kidney.
By then, Isaacs had been on dialysis three days a week for seven months. Stage 4 kidney failure became part of her story with no warning during routine tests at a doctor’s visit. Though there is no way to know for sure, doctors believe a reaction to a prescription medication damaged her kidneys.
She lived with 30% function for two years before numbers plummeted, and she began dialysis to survive.
At first, doctors told Isaacs she did not qualify for a kidney transplant. There are 1,000 people on the wait list in Kentucky and another 1,000 in Indiana with an average wait of three to five years.
Then what Isaacs calls her “kidney miracle” began to unfold.
Once a year, for the last 20 years, Isaacs gets together for dinner with friends she met while working at the Easter Pageant at Southeast Christian Church.
Of course, dialysis and the need for a kidney transplant came up in the conversation.
“I have two kidneys,” Martha Frazier said. “You want one?”
She meant it. Isaacs did not know that in 2018, Frazier volunteered to donate a kidney to Southeast member Nancy Waddell. By the time she found out she was the wrong blood type, Waddell had found a donor match from Mary Helen Stovall at the Crestwood Campus.
The women began extensive testing with stops and starts due to COVID-19. It turned out Frazier could not give her kidney to Isaacs. She could, however, donate her kidney to someone knowing that Isaacs would also get a kidney.
“It came down to the fact if I give a healthy kidney then my friend gets a healthy, more compatible kidney,” Frazier said.
Once testing was complete, both women waited for news of a match. One day when the wait seemed long, Frazier joked, “I’ll throw in a set of Ginsu knives if they take my kidney.”
She was teaching at a cottage school last October when the transplant team sent the message: “We have a match if you’re still willing.” Of course, she was.
The date they chose for both surgeries—Frazier to donate and Isaacs to get a kidney—was Nov. 11, which is Frazier’s birthday.
“Last year I had an emergency root canal on my birthday,” she said. “Giving a kidney to a friend would be a big improvement. And I can’t think of a better birthday present. Now I have no idea how I’ll top it next year.”
Frazier’s kidney went to someone in Pennsylvania while Isaacs got a kidney from Texas. It was pretty remarkable considering COVID-19 restrictions.
Before leaving the hospital, Frazier was able to see Isaacs in the ICU. She is matter-of-fact about her gift to Isaacs.
On the other hand, Isaacs is not matter of fact about it.
“Martha is my hero, my angel,” she said. “Through all the testing, I saw so many patients in dialysis younger than me. For various reasons, heart disease, diabetes, they could not get a transplant. I just keep thanking God. This is such a gift.”
Just six weeks into recovery, both women feel good.
Frazier wants people to know it’s not so hard to save someone’s life.