Kidney transplant from practical stranger saves auto executive’s life
DETROIT – It’s fair to call it a miracle of sorts that car dealer Molly Williams is healthy . Williams, 45, desperately needed a new kidney in June and was running out of options. A dozen of her friends and family got tested to donate, but none matched.
“I was concerned,” said Williams, who suffers from an inherited disorder. “I’m such a control freak, but I can’t control this, and I really wanted a kidney before I needed dialysis.”
With 2,400 people on Michigan’s waiting list to receive a kidney, the wait is typically four to five years. But Williams’ kidney health had deteriorated so rapidly, she was a few months away from needing dialysis to live, said Ronini Prashar, Williams’ doctor.
“Patients on dialysis die faster than those who receive a transplant,” said Prashar, medical director of the Living Donor Kidney Transplant Program at Henry Ford Transplant Institute in Detroit.
And dialysis saps quality of life. “You’re looking at being hooked to a machine for three days a week for the rest of your life,” Prashar said.
Williams’ situation was dire until a stranger and an unusual set of circumstances intervened. She met a monk and then a new friend at her gym. The miracle followed.
Football-sized kidneys Williams, a mother of two teenage girls and a 10-year-old boy, has polycystic kidney disease , which causes clusters of cysts to develop in the kidneys, leading to kidney failure. To put it in perspective: A healthy kidney should be the size of a fist. Williams’ kidneys, full of cysts, are the size of footballs, she said.
Williams’ mother had a kidney transplant in 1998. She has thrived because the disease does not attack a new kidney.
At least 12 potential donors for Williams got tested. One was a high school friend who flew from Pennsylvania to undergo eight hours of tests. She was a blood and tissue match.
“I wanted it to be her so bad,” Williams said. “I’ve known her since I was a freshman in high school.”
But a medical complication disqualified her from giving a kidney to Williams. Many others, including Williams’ husband, a neighbor, her in-laws and even a fellow manager at her Chevrolet dealership were tested. No luck. But Williams persevered.
“The whole thing was incredible. I don’t know what it would be like to be on the other side,” Williams said. “I have no judgment on who got tested and who didn’t.”
Detroit’s miracle worker Williams leaned on her Catholic faith for solace.
The late Father Solanus Casey is widely known as Detroit’s miracle worker. So on July 18, Williams and her family, bosses and friends took her to a 2 p.m. Mass at the Solanus Casey Center on Mount Elliott in Detroit.
It was “one of the best experiences” of her life, she said.
“I went up to the altar. They all had their hands on me, and I got blessed by a monk,” Williams said. “The monk said the reason flowers were on the altar was because a man came there the previous week needing a lung transplant. The day we were there, the man was getting his lung transplant.”
Nineteen days later, her doctor called her with news: There was a healthy, living donor who matched her.
A calling The donor was Kristi Cooper, 46, of Beverly Hills, Michigan. She is a single mother of 16-year-old twin boys. She and Williams knew each other, but only casually – strangers almost.
The two met at Orangetheory Fitness about 18 months ago. They would make small talk there waiting for their fitness class to start. They developed a casual friendship. When Williams missed a couple of classes in July, Cooper asked her why.
“She had never mentioned anything about being sick, but she said, ‘I need a kidney,’ ” Cooper said. “She said, ‘I’m getting discouraged because I match people and then they get ruled out.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll get tested.’ “
Williams didn’t take Cooper’s offer seriously. Many people had told Williams they’d get tested only to have a change of heart. But Cooper was different, telling her, “Molly, you never know why you meet people. Maybe this is why we were meant to meet.”
On July 23, Cooper got her blood tested. On Aug. 6, the hospital called Cooper to confirm she matched Williams.