Recipient Stories


ellen_garner
Sabrina Smith      Ellen Garner
calvinjones
Pat Weaver              Calvin Jones
jerrygrisham jeannacantey
Jerry Grisham       Jeanna Cantey
k_lynch-george james_cruse
Kim Lynch George   James Cruse
candace-flynt
Candace Flynt
(Click on photo for story)


SABRINA SMITH

When I was eight years old, I was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. This marked the beginning of many health struggles for me. By the time my parents discovered that I was a diabetic, my pancreas was no longer working properly and I would need to take insulin shots for the rest of my life. The most difficult part of being a diabetic (for me) was being a young kid with restrictions on my diet. When my parents were not around, I would conveniently forget about my diet.

After years of not properly following my diet, I was no longer controlling my diabetes, but it was controlling me. My blood pressure was out of control; I was retaining fluid; I had trouble with digesting foods and I had an extreme loss of energy. The combination of these symptoms led to the discovery of my kidney failure.

I was told that I would need a kidney, since mine was only working at 11% and there was no hope of it recovering. In the meantime, I would need to start dialysis immediately. I was devastated. Not only was I learning that yet another one of my organs was not functioning properly, I also learned that my life was being altered even more by dialysis. My doctor explained that I would be put on a waiting list for an organ. However, there was no guarantee I would receive a matching organ.

This was the first time I realized how important organ donation was to the lives of persons in need. I was on the waiting list for four months, before a match was found. I will never forget the day I was called. It was 3:00 am on June 14, 2004. It was like a dream. I had heard stories of people being on the waiting list for years before they received a matching organ. Some even died waiting for a transplant. The call came with mixed emotions. I was happy because not only was I receiving a kidney, but I was also receiving a pancreas. I was sad, because I knew this opportunity meant that someone had lost their life to save mine.

This is why I now volunteer with the Mid-South Transplant Foundation. I can’t tell you how wonderful my life has become because of someone else’s sacrifice. I take this blessing and share it with others. I travel across the Mid-South and share my story to encourage those who are now on the waiting list. The wait is not just for an organ, but for a second chance at life. I was 24 years old when I received my organs. There are others who are much younger and older still waiting. I encourage you to consider becoming an organ donor. It truly saves lives and gives hope.”
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ellen_garnerELLEN GARNER

My life changing story begins like most normal people. It was in early 1995; a mother of two, worked Monday through Friday, worked out at the gym at least three to four times a week, went to church, loved God but my faith was being tested.  However one of my major complaints, I was always tired. Maybe complained is too strong of a word, but in my conversations the words ‘I’m tired’ would be mentioned and at the time I never took it serious. After awhile I began to have pain in my right foot which I thought was because of the aerobic classes I was taking. I later became more fatigued and the pain was getting unbearable. And to make matters worst my face and chest were covered with really fine bumps.  I knew then something was wrong but had no idea of what it could be.  I finally went to the doctor and was informed I had systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or more commonly know as Lupus. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can affect the joints and almost every major organ in the body, including the heart, kidneys, skin, lungs and brain. Of course I had no idea what Lupus was and that it could affect my body that way. But once I was informed and did a lot of research on this terrible disease I realized this was something I had been dealing with for awhile because of the symptoms I was having.  With Lupus, I was later diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I could barely walk. I was in excruciating pain. The pain was so severe that doctors told me I may never wear high heels again. That was very devastating to say to someone who only had one pair of flat shoes at that time. Some people may think of that as being petty when your life is being threatened with an altered life or death because of this disease. But for me it was not just about the shoes it was my life was not my life any more or the life I was used too. Most important I could barely take care of my children or do the simple things I normally took for granted like walking from one room to another or feeding myself without shaking. If that wasn’t enough, I was also diagnosed with acute acid reflux. This was something Rolaids or any prescription medicines couldn’t cure. I could barely eat and when I did, the food would not stay down. It has gotten so bad that I hated to eat. My sweet mom was a jewel to me, and I thank God for her every day. She would come over and most of the times stay with me to help make sure the children and I were okay. My mom would cook and would say just eat a little. I must admit I felt a little stronger after I ate but I knew later that night or a couple of days later I would be sick from eating the food and that is putting it mildly. With all of that going on with my health, I could only sleep up to four hours in and entire 24 hour period. This lasted for approximately two and half years. I was EXTREMELY depressed.

With all of the problems (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, acute acid reflux) and the suffering I was enduring, I had gotten to a point where I was able to deal with my sickness. Then suddenly that changed. Instead of me getting better I began to get worse. This was something different and because of past experiences I knew something was wrong. In March of 1999, I was told I had complete kidney failure. Another tragedy, but this took me to the lowest point of my life. For days I didn’t know what to think or how to react to this news. I cried all the time; it was as if I was living a dream. I was more depressed than anyone could imagine. I was quickly put on dialysis where I was dialyzed three days a week for three hours each day. Every time I finished dialysis I would get really sick. I was on dialysis almost a year and this became my life. I was limited on what to eat and how much fluid I could intake while on dialysis. I began to have more and more problems with acute acid reflux and in November 1999, the day before Thanksgiving I had surgery to partially wrap my esophagus. This was one of the times I thought I was not going to live much longer BUT GOD. I was truly at my lowest and cried out to God many days and nights to please help me. I felt so alone but knew God had to be there because there was no way I could have made it this far without Him. But what I didn’t realize was because of the esophagus wrap, I could eat without being sick, therefore I was getting stronger, I was still very sick but my blood work was showing positive results of getting better. Then one day the dialysis director asked if I wanted to be tested to be listed on the organ transplant list. I said yes and the tests began. When the results came back, she stated one of your numbers is a little low, do you want me to send it to the transplant coordinator? I said yes. What did I have to lose? The transplant coordinator stated the same, one of my numbers was too low, do you want me to send it to the transplant doctor, and of course I said yes. My mom and I had an appointment with the doctor to discuss the results of my lab work and he stated I was a good candidate to be added to the transplant list. On April 14, 2000, my name was added to the local and national transplant list. One month and 4 days later I received a call that I had a kidney and to report to the hospital. That was unbelievable! With all of the praying, crying, pity parties I had endured, God showed me that He is a miracle worker (it became personal). It was not until the latter part of my illness that I asked God, “If You want me to live like this, then you are going to have to condition me to live like this”. It took a long time for me to get it but once I turned it over to God my life began to change.

I thank God for the Mid-South Transplant Foundation.  I feel that God uses them as a vessel to educate others to continue life. I appreciate their service to communicate to the communities through churches, radio and even on the MATA buses the multiple ways of educating the people in the Mid-South.
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PAT WEAVER

What an honor for me to have the opportunity to tell my transplant story. There are so many people on the waiting list who won’t live long enough to even receive an organ.

The first symptom I had came in 1999 as itching. I could have sworn my bones itched. Where do you start? What kind of doctor do you see? I started my trek with my regular internist. We tried many brands of pills, lotions, and sprays. Nothing seemed to help. Then they sent me to an allergist, a dermatologist, and then we tried an endocrinologist — all were stumped as to what was causing the problem. The itching was so bad I often used a scrub pad to scratch my upper arms, back and chest. My doctor then advised me to see a gastroenterologist. This wonderful doctor said you seem to be suffering from a fatty liver and will need to see a hematologist. He gave me a prescription that thankfully calmed the itching and gave me some relief.

It was confirmed I had severe liver disease and following a biopsy, that I would eventually require a full liver transplant. I still continued to work for two more years before I retired.

I was still itching very badly and had begun to have other problems. I didn’t feel well much of the time. In January 2005 I had the first bout with esophageal varices. It would start with a sick stomach followed shortly by vomiting blood (SCARY). Then it was off to the hospital, to band the esophagus. This happened 5 times and I began to lose weight, 75 pounds total.

My MELD number was up (scoring system used to determine how urgently a patient needs a liver transplant) and it was time to put me on the Transplant List.

By now I had gotten so weak I was no longer capable of preparing my own lunch and making the bed was out of the question. I found it difficult to dress myself.

However, I continued going to church even when it required a wheelchair. I had to choose between Sunday School and Church as I just wasn’t strong enough to do both on the same day.

By January 2005 the family felt there should be someone with me at all times because of the high ammonia levels. There were times I did not know how to dial a telephone. Fluid built up and every two weeks and had to be suctioned out. I lost as much as 21 pounds in about an hour. I was in and out of the hospital constantly.

The call came on Saturday, June 25, 2005. “Come NOW, we have a liver for you.” I was in the midst of an ammonia level crisis, and had begun to turn from yellow to light green. I was in trouble, I just didn’t know it.

Following the surgery, the nurse woke me and there were tubes everywhere but NO MORE ITCHING! I knew something wonderful had happened. After only 4 days I was released but had to make frequent appointments for checkups and to have blood work done regularly. The liver doctor released me after six months, and said: “See you in six months.” Now I only go once a year.

As a result of my transplant, my husband and I have been able to travel to Dallas, Springfield, Williamsburg and New Orleans and make many other short trips. I now go and do as much as I like, such as having parties for those at Sunday School and friends. We sometimes have as many as 50 people for a Soup Supper.

I appreciate that I was given a second chance at life and in return want to help save lives. I overcame my illness and now lead a productive life.

I feel it’s a joy to volunteer and tell my story at health fairs and events, making others aware of the need for organ and tissue donors.
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CALVIN JONES

Calvin Jones knows life is a gift.

He joined the Army at 18 and traveled the world as an aircraft refueler for six years. However, diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia forced him to return to civilian life. The following year he suffered his first major heart attack and had open heart surgery. While recuperating, he did community work – coaching softball, volleyball, and basketball. He even found time for his favorite hobby – fishing.

He also became active in his church and soon realized his calling was to be a minister.

Several years later, while fishing, he had another heart attack. His doctor told him the damage to his heart was severe. Calvin was placed on the waiting list for a heart transplant. Because he didn’t want people to act differently toward him, he told only three people – his wife, pastor and best friend. For the next two years he was in and out of the hospital. He became so sick he was told his only option was to be admitted to the hospital and wait for a heart to become available. Moved to the top of the waiting list, he remained in the hospital for four months, going outside only once.

When he found out he would receive a new heart Calvin had mixed feelings. Excitement and happiness were tempered by feelings of sadness for the donor family. His donor, Paul was only 39 when he fell down a flight of stairs at his class reunion. The fall caused a head injury that, in turn, triggered a stroke. Shortly afterwards, Calvin received Paul’s heart.

Today Calvin says: “With my new heart I’ve been able to return to the ministry and enjoy activities without limitations such as bowling, fishing, and softball. I’ve gone back to college to get a masters degree in divinity. The quality of my life is amazing. My wife, Angel, and I had a son in 2009 (Zachary Adonai’ Paul Jones – named after his donor) and we’re expecting a daughter.”

When Calvin met Paul’s family, there was an immediate positive connection. Paul’s young daughter, Isabel, put her ear to Calvin’s chest and said excitedly, “I hear thump, thump, thump. Sounds like Daddy’s.”

The two families remain in close touch. Paul’s widow, Kayelen, takes comfort in knowing that the love that filled Paul’s life continues even after his death.

“I’ve learned so much from this experience,” Calvin says. “Life is a gift and should never be taken for granted. Organ transplantation saved my life and I’m so grateful. For me, it’s truly a new heart, a new start.”
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JERRY GRISHAM

I am a liver transplant recipient. My wife and I are native Memphians and have four children and three grandchildren.

During my yearly physical in 1991, the doctors found a problem with my liver. After running many tests, I was diagnosed with Primary Schlerosing Colangitis. As some of you may remember, Walter Peyton of the Chicago Bears died from PSC. The doctor placed me on an experimental drug which slowed the progression of the disease. We were told that at some point I would need a liver transplant. The medicine worked for 16 years!

In February 2006 I was hospitalized with esophageal varices which was our first indication that the medicine was no longer working. During that year, I struggled with the rapid progression of this disease. In September 2006 I was referred to a physician who helped us begin the testing process to be placed on the transplant list. On December 26th we received word that I was officially on the list. As we waited, I became increasingly sicker and by February 2007 was barely able to get out of bed. On Monday, February 19 we received the phone call to come to the hospital and after a nine hour surgery, I had a new liver and the Gift of Life.

After the surgery, the doctors told my wife that had I not gotten the transplant, I probably had only a few more weeks to live. Although it took several weeks of recovery, I am now back to all of my normal activities and feel better than I have felt for several years.

As you can imagine this whole process had had a tremendous impact on our family. We prayed a lot to get through it.

There are no words to express the eternal gratitude we feel for our donor’s family. They have given us the ultimate gift – the Gift of Life. And it is our sincere hope that sharing our story will help others realize how important these gifts are.
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canteysJEANNA CANTEY

I was born with a genetic lung disease called Cystic Fibrosis and was not expected to live past my teenage years. Praise the Lord that I did, and I was even able to give birth to my oldest daughter with no complications. That in and of itself, was a miracle. Once I reached the age of 30, my health started to decline. Eventually I was on oxygen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with the only hope of survival being a double lung transplant. Before long I had to use a walker or wheelchair to go anywhere and that was very limited. There were times that I spent days in my room upstairs because I did not have the strength to walk downstairs. My daughter was about 8 and I was missing so many things in her life. I remember watching her outside my bedroom window playing and running around with her friends. It broke my heart that I was unable to be part of much of her life. The world was passing me by and I was helpless. She was so sweet and understanding, even though she badly wanted me to be able to go outside and play with her. When I thought about it, the idea of leaving her behind was more than I could bear. We have always been very, very close and I knew if something happened to me, it would break her heart. I was not worried for me, but my heart ached for her. On several occasions she came to me in the morning, crying that she had had a bad dream that I had not survived. I tried to reassure her the best I could but in the back of my mind I wondered if her dream would come true one day. It was so hard for me to pray for lungs to come available for me, because my answered prayer meant that someone else would be living a nightmare. All I could do was pray that if something was going to happen, that my (or someone else that I knew) life could be saved. It is a hard thing to pray for, but I knew that God had a plan and it was a perfect one. No matter what happened to me, it was perfect.

There were 2 times before my transplant that I was in the hospital and very sick and my pastor even came to read me my last rights. Death seemed imminent, but I guess that was not in the plan. Each time, I survived but was sicker than before. We knew that a transplant would have to come soon or I would not make it. We updated our wills and did as much as we could to plan for the worst while praying for the best. I was not going to give up, I would fight until the end to be here for my husband and daughter. It was hard, very hard but I was alive and that was all that mattered. We prayed for a transplant and prayed for our donor and family if it did happen. On the night of January 4, 2006 I received the most important phone call of my life and was given the gift of life the next day. I remember when my mom and husband came in to see me after my surgery. My mom said: “Look at her color, her checks are pink. Look at her fingernails, they aren’t blue anymore.” They were both smiling and so happy. I gave them a thumbs up and through sign language, told them I loved them. Even though I was on a ventilator, I could see my chest rising and falling and I could feel air going deep in my new lungs. It had been so long, if ever, that I could really feel air going in and out of my body. It was a strange but wonderful feeling. I was so thankful to be alive but was heartbroken that it came at such a cost to someone else. I prayed, thanking God for my second chance while I prayed for a family who was now mourning a loved one.

That was just over 7 years ago, and I now have 4 children, 4 dogs and a bird. My children range in ages 5, 6, 8 & 16. Organ donation not only saved my life, but I like to think that it saved the life of my 3 additional children, who I adopted a year and a half after my transplant. Without that selfless act of love and kindness, my oldest child would not have a mother, my husband would be a widower and I have no idea where my 3 youngest children would be. I am a stay-at-home mom who loves nothing more than to care for my children and family every day and I appreciate life and family more than you know. I give thanks every day that I am not only alive, but I have a beautiful family and home where we have lots of love and laughter. With every kiss and hug from my children, I know that it is only possible through God and organ donation that I am even here on this earth. I am at every soccer game, school program, skinned knee and church program, only because of the gift of life that was provided by someone suffering a great loss. I take care of myself, take every pill, and make every doctor’s appointment while living life to the fullest each and every day. I am not perfect, but when I get upset or aggravated all I have to do is think about my blessing of life and I quickly change my attitude. I am blessed not only because of my family and friends, but that I have a perspective that keeps me grateful and appreciating everything that I have. I am grateful for my 5 year old that climbed on me and asked me if she has a brain and asked for candy while I wrote this letter. I am thankful that I am here for my 16 year old who is now a teenager and really needs her mom. I am thankful that I will soon be picking up my 6 & 8 year olds from school and will be starting homework and dinner and the chaos of the evening will begin. My children and family are my joy and I believe why God spared my life.

I know how high the cost was to someone else in order for me to have lived. My mom has since passed on since my surgery, but I am so thankful that she went to heaven knowing that I was well, happy and healthy. She worried about me my entire life so I am grateful we had several years that she no longer had to worry about me and she was here to watch me grow my family by 3 more children. And one thing I know for sure, is that my mom thanked my donor in heaven for giving me the gift of life back here on earth, by being an organ donor.
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k_lynch-georgeKIM LYNCH GEORGE

In 1984 my brother and I were diagnosed with diabetes. We both started out on insulin right away. I did pretty well with my blood sugar for a long time, and then the numbers started jumping up and down. It was hard to keep them regulated, so I was put me on two shots a day, and checked them more throughout the day. Do you know how hard it was being a senior in high school, getting excited about being out of school and planning my future? But it was one thing that I was obligated to do for the rest of my life.

Later on my blood sugar went way out of control and landed me in the hospital’s ICU with ketoacidosis. That was the worst thing I had experienced in my life. It was a scary feeling: wondering what was going on and what was going to happen to me. I didn’t know if my life was coming to an end or what. My blood sugar was in the 800’s but luckily the doctors and nurses finally got it down to normal. Once again, my insulin doses were increased and I was told “watch your blood sugar”.

I thought that I was doing really well after that big scare, until I started slowly developing other complications from the diabetes. The first problem I noticed was that I began losing feeling in my hands, legs, feet and toes. I could not feel much difference between hot and cold, between sharp and dull. I knew diabetes was taking control of me worse than I ever imagined.

The doctors told me that I needed a nerve conduction test to see what damage I had in my nerve endings. Sure enough, I had nerve damage and there was nothing I could do about it. After all of this was discovered, several on my mother’s side of the family started to have burning, swelling and pain in their feet. All of my mother’s side of the family was tested for CMT, Charcot-Marie-Tooth Syndrome [named for the three researchers who discovered it]. Unfortunately, I tested positive for it. I have to wear braces on my legs and feet to help me walk. I can’t bend down, run, stand on my toes or climb stairs.

I went several years with nothing major happening to me. My family and I decided we would move from Mississippi to Tennessee. There I was referred to a Diabetes Specialist who thought I would do better on an insulin pump, to help keep my blood sugar regulated and it did.

I also had to see a kidney doctor who scheduled some blood work and kidney functioning test for me. The results came in: my kidney function was getting worse. The doctors felt a kidney/pancreas transplant would be the best thing for me. I didn’t know there was such an option. My doctors set an appointment for me to meet with the transplant clinic to discuss my health problems. I was immediately set up to see a transplant coordinator to get the transplant process started.

First, I had to go through more tests than I could count on my fingers and toes. After all my test results came back, I was approved to be put on the transplant list. Second, I had to send blood work each month for antibody matching. In July 1998 I was put on the transplant list for a kidney/pancreas transplant.

On August 6,1998 I called the transplant coordinator to see where I needed to send my blood work for my antibody matching. The coordinator was unavailable and I had to leave a message for her to call me back. At 4:00 P.M. the phone rang; it was the coordinator calling me back with the answers to my question, or that is what I thought. She told me, “Kim, you don’t need to send any blood work you need to come to the hospital to have your transplant”. I was really stunned; it had only been 2 weeks since I was put on the transplant list. I arrived at the hospital and was scared to death. They got all my paperwork done, drew blood and they came in and told me it would be in the morning before they got to me. That was a restless night.

On August 7, 1998, at 1:40 P.M., I was taken to surgery to have the transplant. The doctors called my family at 3:10 P.M. and told them I was asleep and they were getting the organs ready and would call when they started the surgery. At 3:37 P.M. surgery called and said they had started and everything was going well. At 5:10 P.M. they called and said they were doing the pancreas first and everything was going good. At 7:45 P.M. they called and were finished with the pancreas and starting on the kidney and would be finished in about two hours. At 10:00 P.M. the doctor came in and said the organs looked real good and they started working just as soon as they hooked them up. I was in ICU for three days and in a lot of pain (like a big truck had just run over my stomach). I got to see my husband and all my friends and family and that made me feel much better. I was then moved to a regular room where they closely monitored my condition. The next couple of days were spent in the hospital and the pain was not as bad. Then I started seeing more doctors and nurses than I could remember. After a long week in the hospital, my blood work looked great, I was ready to travel home to finish my recovery.

How would you like to have all this affect you while you are young? You think a lot of medical problems happen to older people, but that is not always true. It can happen to anyone. I was 32 years old when I received my double transplant. This was the start of my new life. It has now been 14 years since my transplant. All is going good for me; I am even in better health. I take a lot of medicine, but it’s not like having to check your blood sugar, watch what you eat, going to the doctor all the time or worrying about the complications of diabetes.

I volunteer my time with Mid-South Transplant Foundation promoting organ donation and how important it is. I love to talk to people about organ donation and show them me as an example of how donation saved my life as well as others. I also participated in the 50th Anniversary of The US Transplant Games held in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2004.

If you are in the process of having a transplant, I suggest that you listen to your doctors, ask questions, have a positive attitude and talk to other people who have had a transplant. Although I have not heard back from my donor’s family, I still write to them and let them know what a difference their loved one made to my life. I thank the donor and family everyday for making the decision to donate in their time of grief. I thank God, the donor family, the transplant doctors and my loving family and friends for looking out for me and giving me a second chance at life!
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k_lynch-georgeJAMES CRUSE

The oldest of three, I was born in Pueblo, Colorado and graduated from high school in 1977, in Salina, Kansas. I joined the Marine Corps and after serving for twenty years retired and currently reside in Bartlett, Tennessee. The Lord blessed me and I’ve been able to raise three beautiful daughters. I have spent years documenting and dealing with emotions and experiences, which have defined my walk with Christ.

My trials to transplant Timeline:
• Summer of 1995 – I was diagnosed with a virus that resulted in stage four liver failure.
• Summer of 2004 – I was placed on the transplant list.
• In December 2006 – I had a full liver transplant.

It is by God’s Grace I am living today. I define myself as a modern day miracle. My struggles and survival have been the pivotal influences in my life. They lead me to volunteer and began writing about my trials & triumphs. Writing and volunteering serve as a form of therapy towards my healing and strengthens my relationship with God, family, and friends. My testimonies are designed to encourage, inspire, uplift, and motivate others to be organ and tissue donors. They are sure to stimulate a word of victory, power, strength & prosperity in lives of people everywhere.

I want to comfort people with a natural aspect of giving hope through uplifting stories they can relate to, while going through some of life’s challenges. I want to bring comfort to others through their trials of transplantation.
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candace_w-donor-momCANDACE FLYNT

I am a wife and mother to 3 young boys. In 2010 I was told I had a rare type of cancer called carcinoid tumors. It started in my pancreas and went to my liver. I had to have a partial pancreas removal and a liver transplant in 2011. Since then, I have been healthy and FREE of cancer! I have had lots of incredible moments when God showed up in my life. One of the most meaningful is when I had the chance to meet the family of the loved one who gave me this Gift of Life. I met them on October 9, 2011 and will never forget that date for many reasons. It was my 31st birthday, but most importantly I gained a new family! Since that day we meet and phone each other as often as we can. We exchange love through cards, presents by mail, and Facebook messages. I know without a doubt that God had all this planned — our families would unite through tragedy but yet with humbleness and thankfulness all at the same time.

March 8th is the day when Kimberly lost her life and graciously gave me a second chance to live. I am eternally grateful to her and will greet her in heaven one day and thank her. I am blessed to be able to know this family and have them welcome me as one of their own.PicsArt_candace_resized

I have been told there are many similarities between me and my donor, Kimberly. These include our ‘giving’ personalities. We both had tattoos. We both smile big. The similarities don’t end here. My son and Kimberly’s son both share birthdays in November. My mother (Brenda) and Kimberly’s mother (Helen) share birthdays on the same day, March 12th! God has united us together and we share a bond that nobody can ever break. A bond of love and thankfulness all linked by Kimberly!
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