LOVE IN ACTION: A 'golden ticket' that saved this woman's life
I received a gift of time in December. Time away, time to reflect, time to reset my intentions.
In a beautifully wooded and secluded mountainous region, north of Seattle, an intimate group of Black and Brown women from around the country got real with themselves and with one another.
The 4th annual Wonder of Women Winter Wonderland Retreat was organized and facilitated by Veronica Very Davis. Rev. Dr. Anika Wilson-Brown, Senior Pastor of the historic Temple Baptist Church in Washington, DC, was the main conference speaker.
During this retreat themed Release, Renew and Rise, Wilson-Brown skillfully delivered hope, instruction, and tools for our self-awareness and self-assessment, but also for the maintenance of our mental healthcare; and Davis, Founder of Wonder of Women (WOW) International, encouraged each of us to think deeply about our intentions for the year ahead.
It was in this atmosphere that Davis began to tell a story unlike any I’d heard before, a remarkable story about two women— ordinary women, many would say – like me and perhaps like you.
As the story goes, Analisa Mitchell, at that time, 46 years old and wearily clinging to life, barely made it to the WOW retreat, and Tammie Holmes, then 55, a self-described introvert out of her comfort zone attending, did it anyway.
While the ladies were receiving room assignments and settling in, Holmes, not ready to face the crowd, recalls starting a conversation with Mitchell who sat near the fireplace, not looking well.
“Tammie turned her attention toward me,” Mitchell recalls.
This fateful meeting and the conversation that followed would bind these women together in a way that neither of them could have imagined.
Holmes would learn of Mitchell’s history with Lupus, her then recent month-long hospital stay, and the critical impact of the disease on Mitchell’s kidneys.
“I told Tammie how I had just been discharged from the hospital, that I almost passed away,” says Mitchell, still determined as she was to be there at the retreat, and here, living this life. She explained that she was pressed to get well quickly – well enough to be considered a candidate for kidney transplant.
But for as long as Mitchell had been hoping to gain strength to withstand a transplant, she had also been waiting for a kidney that would be a match.
In that time, she had become sensitized, meaning her antibody levels had become exceptionally elevated, more than certain to fight against a donor kidney. The human body in a “sensitized” state can reject even a matching donor organ. Safeguarding against this and other concerns had prolonged Mitchell’s wait.
“At that time, I had been waiting for more than 8 years,” she says.
Compounding the difficulty presented by Mitchell’s sensitized state, was this devastating bottom line: only 2% of the living donor population could save her life. 98%, she already knew, were incompatible.
Hearing this, Holmes remembered a story of a woman who became her aunt’s kidney donor, and she retold that story to Mitchell, adding “I was so moved that I told God, if I had the opportunity, I would [do the same]. I believe God planted the seed that day.”
And Holmes says, “without hesitation, I told Analisa that I came to the retreat just for her, and that I would give her a kidney.”
Mitchell says it was like “the opportunity presented itself [to Holmes], and she stepped out.”
Before the end of the retreat, the two had traded contact information and become Facebook friends. Holmes would often share her research about kidney donation and all that it would entail. “She would tell me what she learned and what I needed to do,” Mitchell recalls. Finally, after a year, she was healthy enough to undergo surgery.
But, in January 2019, after a battery of tests, after quickly dropping 20 pounds over four months on doctor’s orders, after countless blood draws, and more, Holmes says “I found out I wasn’t a perfect match for Analisa.” It had been a long and sometimes incredibly disappointing process for both women.
Nevertheless, for Holmes, having come to this very special place of sacrifice, fearlessness, peace of mind, and intention, there was simply no way she was turning back now. It would not all be in vain.
When her kidney was found to be incompatible to Mitchell, she chose to present her offer to the National Kidney Registry where a match was determined in two days. Holmes’ kidney would be a gift to a father and his family in Baltimore.
Following surgery in July was a month of rest at home. Some residual fatigue and water retention are her only complaints.
But it was by this turn of events that Holmes received what’s called a voucher. It’s the golden ticket in the world of organ donation. A candidate for kidney transplant who holds a voucher, or is named as the beneficiary of a voucher, is prioritized on the National Kidney Registry.
Holmes named Mitchell as beneficiary of that voucher. It was just two weeks later when Mitchell received the long-awaited call from The Registry, followed by her kidney transplantation in September.
They have no regret about all they’ve been through. In fact, if they had it to do again, they would. “Absolutely,” says Mitchell.
“It’s the most humane thing I’ve ever done,” says Holmes. “I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
This story is one of many that speaks to the power of sisterhood and sacred space that WOW creates.
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Carla Bell is a greater Seattle area freelance writer with bylines at Ebony and Essence magazines; and at The North Star, first established by Frederick Douglass in 1847 and re-established by Shaun King in 2019. Around Seattle, her work has been published by The Seattle Times, Crosscut, The News Tribune, and South Seattle Emerald, among others.