Tia Wimbush and Susan Ellis had been working together in the IT department at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for a decade. When they passed by each other at work, the two women would smile and say a little hello to each other.
Neither of them knew that one day, they’d work together to save their husbands’ lives.
Although Tia and Susan had been workmates for a long time, it was only in 2019 that they learned of their shared struggle: both their husbands were suffering from kidney disease and in need of transplants.
Ever since they found out, the pair had become close friends and confidants who talked to each other about the ups and downs of their emotional journeys.
Tia and Susan began working from home when the pandemic started and returned to the office part-time in September. One day, their schedules overlapped, and they bumped into each other in the bathroom.
The five-minute conversation they shared inside that room changed everything.
As they washed their hands and discussed the grueling donor process, Susan told Tia that her husband, Lance, was already on the list and that she had already gone through the process of getting tested. Unfortunately, Susan found out that she and Lance weren’t a match.
Tia, who had just started the testing process, asked Susan what her husband’s blood type was. She told him that Lance is O negative, a rare blood type that’s difficult to match. Tia, whose blood type is O, realized she was compatible.
And Susan, whose blood type is A, matched Tia’s husband Rodney, a type AB type.
“All that was going through my head is, ‘What if we can donate our kidneys to each other’s husbands?’ I could have never imagined it,” Tia told CNN.
When Tia returned to her desk, she called her donor coordinator to confirm that they were a match for each other’s spouses.
“By the end of October, early November, I found out I was a viable donor and I matched Lance — and I matched my husband, but Susan was an even better match,” Tia said.
Rodney, a teacher and coach, discovered his kidneys were failing while he was in school. In August 2019, he went to the nurse’s office because he was feeling under the weather. The nurse found that his blood pressure was dangerously high and immediately brought him to the emergency room.
“It was extremely emotional,” Tia said. “Within an hour of running tests, they started saying things like, ‘Has anyone ever mentioned kidney failure to you?’ And we were like what’s happening? What are you talking about? What does this mean for us?”
Rodney was diagnosed with kidney failure and chronic kidney disease that day. He started undergoing regular dialysis to survive.
Lance was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2010. He received a transplant from his mother in 2017 but suffered kidney complications and went back to renal failure in August 2019 when his body began rejecting his mother’s kidney. Coincidentally, it happened only days after Rodney’s diagnosis.
Lance also had to rely on dialysis treatments to extend his life.
On March 19, 2021, the four were able to undergo transplant surgeries. In the early morning, Susan’s kidney was transplanted to Rodney. Later that day, Tia’s kidney was given to Lance.
Susan knows how lucky they all are to find a donor in such a short time. Other people have to wait seven to nine years, and sadly, not all of them live long enough to receive a transplant.
Thankfully, all their surgeries went smoothly. Lance’s and Rodney’s bodies accepted their new kidneys.
The couples have grown closer since the kidney exchange and now treat each other as family.
“The Wimbushes are our family and are the best people we have ever met. We are looking forward to spending time together and making new healthy memories,” Lance said.
After a few months of recovery, Tia and Susan returned to work on May 17. Their colleagues welcomed them back with cheers, with most of them in tears, as seen in a video of the moment that Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta posted on Facebook.
Tia and Susan hope that their story inspires others to open up about their situation because help might just be around the corner.
“You can be somebody else’s hope, it could be you to show someone a glimpse of what humanity really means,” Tia said.
Click on the video below to learn more about Tia and Susan’s story.
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