In Madison, Ga., a small town 60 miles east of Atlanta, friendship is taken seriously. Farmers lend each other a hand at hay baling time, neighbors help neighbors repair their cars, and wives cook casseroles when someone is sick.
Thats the way of survival in this town. But two womenone a preachers wife, the other a court reporterhave redefined the word friendship for their town, their church … and themselves.
Ann Ross and Jeannette Cathey, both of whom attend Madison Baptist Church, each donated one of their kidneys to two other church members. Ross recipient was high school teacher Alvin Richardson. Catheys recipient was Lavonne Doty, a clerical worker with a local manufacturer.
Richardsons transplant from Ross in 1997 was his second, and the third in his family. His brother had donated a kidney to a third brother several years earlier. When Richardsons first transplant, from his mother, failed, he knew his family could not help.
We were all out of kidneys in the family, he says, able now to joke about the dire situation.
He confided to his pastor, Rev. Jim Ross, how ambivalent he felt praying for a donor, but six congregation membersincluding the pastors wife, Annsoon allayed his worries when they stepped up and volunteered to donate. How can you be willing to pray for a willing donor if youre not willing to be tested? Mrs. Ross reasoned. Of the possible donors, her tissue was the most compatible.
Richardson wasnt surprised. Shes an angel that walks among us, he says.
Within weeks of surgery, their lives returned to normal, with one difference: Richardson now carried Ross kidney beneath a 6-inch scar near his belly button. Church members rejoiced. Among them, Cathey, who marveled at Ross giftunaware she would soon make the same choice.
Cathey and Doty became good friends from the first day they met in Sunday school. Our families went out to eat and we took trips. We just enjoyed being together, Cathey says.
Early on, Doty shared with her new friends that she had a congenital kidney disease. Just before her 40th birthday, she went on the transplant list.
As in Richardsons case, church friends rallied. Eight people, including Cathey, volunteered to be tested. For Cathey, the decision was easy because she saw Ross and Richardson in church every Sunday.
Why not do the same for Lavonne? she asked herself.
Doty remembered Cathey calling to say she was coming to visit. She said she had something to give us. Thats when she told me she was going to be my donor.
The two transplant recipients are humbled by, and grateful for, their second chance at life.
What Ive been shown is the ultimate example of love, Richardson says. You find out in experiences like this that no one goes it alone. My community came to my rescue. Doty echoes the sentiment. Ive been given life, she says. When I see Jeanette, thats what I think. Its an amazing thing.
Both donors also mark the experience as a spiritual milestone.
Its very hard to make other people understand, but its one of the most satisfying things Ive ever done, or probably will do, in my life, Cathey says.
Ross shares her feelings and hopes their actions will encourage others to follow suit.This was an honor, she says. Organs are to be used here, theyre not to be taken to heaven. Its really no sacrifice at all.